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5 minutes with… A mysterious Harold Harvey portrait discovered in a charity shop

Specialist Sarah Reynolds reveals how a chance encounter with a neglected painting in a charity shop — together with a good deal of care and diligence — could now be about to pay off in spectacular fashion for its owners

‘Several years ago, the current owners bought this painting for just 50 pence from a local charity shop, along with a few other items,’ reveals Christie's specialist Sarah Reynolds. ‘The picture was flaking badly, which might explain why it had been overlooked.’

Having been drawn to the painting and acquired it so cheaply, the owners began researching Harold C. Harvey (1874-1941) and discovered that he was a member of the Newlyn School of artists, which painted scenes of working-class life in Cornwall, England, in the first half of the 20th century. Born in Penzance, Harvey was home schooled before studying art in Paris, including a spell under Norman Garstin at the Académie Julian.

The couple then decided to send images of the work to Reynolds and her colleagues at Christie’s in the hope that the work could be authenticated and valued. ‘This rather mysterious picture comes from a year, 1931, in which Harvey doesn’t appear to have been painting much,’ says Reynolds. ‘Luckily Peter Risdon, a leading expert on Harold Harvey, was able to fill in a few important details.’


Harold C. Harvey (1874-1941), Study in Green, 1931. Oil on canvas. 20 x 18 in (50.8 x 45.7 cm). Estimate £5,000-8,000. This lot is offered in Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art, Maritime Art, Sporting & Wildlife Art  on 22 March 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

Harold C. Harvey (1874-1941), Study in Green, 1931. Oil on canvas. 20 x 18 in (50.8 x 45.7 cm). Estimate: £5,000-8,000. This lot is offered in Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art, Maritime Art, Sporting & Wildlife Art on 22 March 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

Risdon believes it’s likely the painting was a commission from the sitter, since he has seen both the green chair and the ceramic dog in other works by the artist. Apparently Harvey was a collector of Staffordshire china and owned a number of Staffordshire dogs, like the one seen in this painting, so they may well have been props in his studio that the unknown sitter picked up.

‘The subject and the colouring are typical of Harvey’s work, but the signature is more unusual,’ explains Reynolds. ‘It is signed twice in the upper right corner, but both are signatures that Harvey used, and make it more likely that the work was a commission on which Harvey was perhaps asked to amend the signature in order to make it clearer.’

Given the unstable paint surface, our specialists advised the clients to have the painting restored prior to sale, which has made an incredible difference to the painting and returned it to its former glory. On 22 March, it is being offered for £5,000-8,000 — which would represent rather a nice return on the owners’ initial 50p investment.