Biddle and Webb Ltd auctions works from a forgotten local artist.

Working in an auction house, contrary to what most people believe, is not a boring, obsolete or dusty job (although it is true for the latter). The following story proves that it is has more in common with Indiana Jones’s adventures rather than with Bargain Hunt!

It all started with the arrival of the contents from a deceased estate and hundreds of valuable artworks (metalwork, paintings, and archives) in early January. Imagine a giant jigsaw that you have to complete in time for the sale with the help of very little information. Just like Dr Jones, it’s been a matter of investigating for names, dates and facts. And just like Dr Jones we’ve succeeded to bring the past into the present.

It just so happened that this time, the unknown was actually pretty well known in the West Midlands despite his lack of recognition today. Biddle & Webb Auctioneers successfully retraced his life and career to give him one final, well deserved tribute.

Walter James West was a Birmingham artist and teacher of art and metalwork. Through his marriage to Miss Edith Mary Waldron, with whom he had a daughter; we have acquired a large body of his work through the sale of her estate, the proceeds to go to charity.

Walter James West was born on 17th December 1882 in the district of Deritend, now part of Digbeth. He was the only child of Emma and James West, a pawnbroker. The family were based at Icknield Port road. He started studying at the age of 14 at the Central school of Arts and Crafts in Birmingham (Margaret Street). In the 1911 census, when he was 28, he is listed as a silversmith chaser. By the age of 30 he was then registered as a part time teacher and student. Lot 667 contains medals he was presented with at this time.

He started early his specialisation in metal design and drawing, and some of the pieces in our possession including preliminary designs as well as the finished object, in particular lots 588 and 705. Later in 1918, he became a regular teacher of drawing at Vittoria Street Jewellery School, where he worked until his death in 1942.

Mr West became an associate of the RBSA in 1936 and was a recognised artist amongst his peers, frequently exhibiting at The Birmingham Art Circle throughout the thirties. From the archived catalogues of the RBSA, he exhibited his work regularly from 1930 onwards. His paintings were sold from seven pounds and seven shillings upwards at the time which amounts to around £400 now. He mostly exhibited landscapes in watercolour often depicting seascapes, architectural and topographical scenes. At the time his work was reviewed in the press and was described as having “a clean and careful skill in drawing with a love of delicate colour”.

The many certificates, documents and reviews amongst the papers recovered only reinforced the idea that Walter James West was not only a teacher but a key figure in his discipline and the history of Birmingham for over thirty years.
The lots of his work that we have in the March sale show the breadth of his working practice and include examples of his metalware and a large quantity of his watercolours, from portraits to landscapes. The following lots of his paintings will go on sale in the Fine Art section on Friday 7th March: 1091, 1094, 1101, 1181, 1182, 1196, 1221.

For more information, visit www.biddleandwebb.co.uk or call : 0121 455 8042.
Thursday, 6th March 2014 from 10.30am : Jewellery, Silver and Wine Sales.
Friday, 7th March 2014 from 10.30am : Antiques, Fine Arts and Collectables.

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