• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 11966

    Prints & Multiples

    21 September 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 46

    Percy John Delf Smith (1882-1948)

    The Dance of Death 1914-1918

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Percy John Delf Smith (1882-1948)
    The Dance of Death 1914-1918
    the complete set of seven etchings with drypoint, 1914-19, on wove paper, fine, rich impressions with varied platetone, each signed in pencil, inscribed with the plate numbers 2, 4, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14 respectively, with the original manuscript title and justification page, set no.1 from the total edition of thirty, presumably published by the artist, with wide margins, probably the full sheets, each within the original cardboard mount, each inscribed with the plate's title in black ink (presumably by the artist), each taped to the mount recto, with associated adhesive stains in the margins, some scattered foxing, the subjects in good condition, all within the original cloth-covered folder with a manuscript label with the name of the artist and the title on the front, the folder stained and worn (portfolio)
    Plate 202 x 252 mm., Sheet 256 x 342 mm. (and similar)


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    Special Notice

    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


    Pre-Lot Text

    VARIOUS PROPERTIES


    Post Lot Text

    Having made two failed attempts to volunteer, Percy Smith finally joined the Royal Marine Artillery and arrived at the Somme in October 1916. While serving on the Western Front, he made countless drawings and etchings of what he saw and was arrested as a spy on more than one occasion for smuggling his work between book sheets.

    The present, extremely rare set of seven etchings is the greatest achievement of this almost forgotten artist. Based on his sketches made at Thiepval on the Somme, Smith combines realistic depictions of the trenches, the slaughter, the dying and the dead, with the traditional, allegorical figure of Death as a skeleton wrapped in a cloak, looming over these dismal scenes. In Death Ponders, the skeleton chillingly waits for the soldier to take his final breath, while in Death Refuses, the cloaked figure turning his back on the trapped soldier is almost taunting him. Unsparing and determined in it's anti-war sentiment, Smith's Dance of Death is perhaps the most devastating depiction of World War I in British Art, comparable only to Otto Dix's famous portfolio Der Krieg.

    While Dix created his much larger series of prints in hindsight in 1924, it appears that Percy began work on the prints during the war and printed and published them shortly after.

    As well as printmaker, Smith was a painter and typographer, and although following the war he received a number of high-profile commissions, including the lettering of the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France, little of his work appears to have survived. In the last twenty years, only a couple of watercolours, some individual etchings and two complete sets of The Dance of Death have been offered at auction.