A self portrait by the "forgotten" English artist David Rolt has been sold at auction for £13,750 to a European collector. The portrait, which came from the personal collection that Rolt left to his family, was the first of his oil paintings to be offered for sale in many years.
Though David Rolt enjoyed considerable success in the 1940s and '50s, most of his paintings have remained in private collections, seldom passsing through the hands of auction houses and art dealers. Since the sale of the self portrait at Christie's in September 2012, a dozen more works by David Rolt have been released from his estate, fetching up to £4,000 at auction. In collaboration with Robert Eagle Fine Art, the artist's son is now offering a limited number of his father's oils and watercolours for sale.
David Rolt was born in 1916. From the early 1940s his paintings – landscapes as well as portraits - were being shown at the Royal Academy and New English Art Club. They caught the eye of the then up-and-coming London gallerist, Jack - later Sir Jack – Baer, who staged five exhibitions Rolt’s work at the Hazlitt Gallery between 1949 and 1957, which were followed by international exhibitions in New York, Capetown and Istanbul.
His sitters included some of the most celebrated figures in British society of the war and post-war years, including Churchill, Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the magnate Nubar Gulbenkian, actress Valerie Hobson, wife of John Profumo.
His landscape paintings, which typically feature windswept trees or rocky shores reflect the wildly fluctuating emotional climate of the artist’s life, sometimes sun-drenched, sometimes wintry-bleak.
"David Rolt was never a flashy painter. He painted with craftsmanship and elegant intelligence” - Sir Jack Baer
Rolt had been partially crippled at birth, when a forceps delivery damaged his skull and left him with lifelong disability in his right arm and one of his legs. Despite these handicaps, his artistic talent thrived and secured him a place at the Slade.
In his early twenties Rolt had formed a relationship with Mel Russell-Cooke, daughter of the captain of the Titanic. A vivacious woman who drove fast cars and held a pilot’s licence, she was 18 years older older than Rolt and already married, but their relationship continued until the artist was in his 40s.
Then, in 1959, his friend Valerie Hobson introduced him to a young debutante, Penelope "Minnie" Bradford, who was more than 20 years younger than Rolt. The artist was smitten; weeks later they were married. The marriage produced two children but only lasted ten years. After their divorce Minnie re-married twice; Rolt never married again, but his friendship with Mel continued until her death in 1973. Mel and Minnie feature in several of Rolt's portraits
David Rolt died in 1985: after suffering severe pain for several years caused by the disabilities he had suffered from birth, he underwent surgery but did not survive the operation. He is buried in Budleigh Salterton in Devon.