Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

31st August 2015


3rd January 1973 Maryport from The Settlement

Mitchells Auction House in Cockermouth is a gem. It is indubitably one of the best in the north. Auctions are held in the old livestock ring. The animals were once assembled prior to the sale in the pens across the road on the site where Sainsburys now stands. Time moves on. Art and antiques have  now replaced the animals and bidders perch in the original  tiered wooden seats.

 Cockermouth was unusually busy yesterday morning as we drove through the town. Everyone appeared to be resolutely making their way towards Mitchells to view the upcoming auction of Mary Burkett's eclectic and interesting collection of art and artefacts. She died aged 90 last December.

  I shall have to go again because there were so many people I knew from the gallery. For me it turned into a big reunion. I didn’t get the chance to look properly.  I was astonished at how far people had travelled  – and there are 3 more days left to view before the 2 day auction on Thursday and Friday(see web address below) and they will probably be just as busy. I'll go in disguise next time then I might stand a chance of seeing it.

The ceramics are impressive – particularly the Lucie Rie, Hans Coper and the late Edward Hughes’ pieces made at his studio at Isel Hall where Mary Burkett lived.

But the star of the show is of course Percy Kelly. I had never seen any of his letters to Mary B  in the flesh. I was kept in the dark and so, happily were the letters. They are superb - very bright in colour having been well preserved over the years unlike many of the other collections I’ve had the privilege to see which have been exposed to light.

** Percy could only afford poor quality ink and watercolour paints so if any of you buy these letters and paintings and get them framed, it is important that you use UV glass (not ordinary non reflective which deadens the colour) or preferably  Museum quality glass on Kelly’s work.  The latter is invisibly non reflective and very protective against light  but is wildly expensive as it is imported from Germany.  I have used this on all the Kelly’s I’ve handled in the last 10 years at least because I considered it was worth it.  E mail me if you want more information.

The comment I heard time after time yesterday was one of regret that the cohesive and important collection is being sold in  separate lots. It will never be seen together again.  Of course MB may have argued that selling them individually makes it possible for more people to actually own a Kelly or it will make more money for charity and she was possibly right.  But do not despair, a digital record has been made and will be deposited in the county archives.

I have been lucky in my PK researches to see 22 similar collections of letters from PK to various people. He was a compulsive letter writer. Percy’s step daughter’s letters were similarly split up and sold at Castlegate House at her request, Peter Scott’s collection is held at Abbot Hall, Joan David’s core collection is in Cumbria County Archive and Percy’s letters to poet Norman Nicholson are now in John Rylands Library in Manchester.  Researchers will have an interesting time in the future piecing it all together!

From gauging reaction yesterday – peering nosily over people’s shoulders or talking with them - I forecast that prices will far exceed the estimates in the catalogue. There were many people scribbling numbers down with intense concentration and a firm intention to bid. This will be a very busy sale which may break a record. You can watch it on line if you want to enjoy the excitement but don’t wish to join the scrum. Go to where you will find the link. You can also look through the catalogue (it has a zoom facility) on the web site.

Hope all those  I saw yesterday with lists get what they want.



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