Melbourne, Australia born artist Ethel Spowers (1890-1947) is the new queen of the Grosvenor school print market after one of her works set a new record for a Grosvenor school print at a Bonhams auction held in London on the 17th of April.
A copy of Spowers’ The Gust of Wind, sold as part of Bonhams ‘The Grosvenor School and Avant-Garde British Printmaking’ sale, achieved the new auction record selling to an American collector for £114,500 against an estimate of £15,000-20,000. Sybil Andrews’ Speedway linocut was sold in the same sale and briefly held the Grosvenor after fetching £68,000 but was eclipsed by Spowers’ The Gust of Wind.
Previously regarded as a second-tier proponent of the Grosvenor school, Spowers’ work has experienced a rapid rise in popularity over the last couple of years. The previous record for a Spowers print was set in 2011 when a copy of the artist’s Wet Afternoon was sold by Christie's South Kensington for £42,000. Prior to 2011, the auction record for a Spowers print was only £9,000 which was set in 1996.
Spowers was born in 1890 into a wealthy and cultured family which owned Melbourne's Argus newspaper. After briefly attending art school in Paris she returned to Australia where she completed the full course in drawing and painting at Melbourne's National Gallery schools.
A dramatic change in Spowers' style occurred in 1929 when she studied under Claude Flight (the leading exponent of the modernist linocut) at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, London. The lino-cut prints that she learnt to create at the Grosvenor School were popular during the 1930’s and were regularly shown at the Redfern Gallery, London. A number of her linocuts were purchased by The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.