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Harry Epworth Allen: A Private Collection

5th August 2021.

A large collection of works on paper by Sheffield artist Harry Epworth Allen (1894-1958) are coming under the hammer at Tennants Auctioneers. Previously unseen on the open market, the collection was purchased by the current vendor directly from Allen’s studio via the artist’s wife circa 20 to 25 years ago. The collection comprises approximately 200 works, the first twenty of which will be included in the Modern and Contemporary Art Sale on 9th October. Harry Epworth Allen was a prolific artist known for his distinctive stylised landscapes, and examples of his work can be found in the collections of the British Museum, the Government Art Collection, Hepworth Wakefield and Sheffield Museums.

Harry Epworth Allen was born in the Broomhall district of Sheffield, the son of a steel maker. In 1911 he started work as a clerk at Arthur Balfour Steelworks before enrolling at the Sheffield Technical School of Art. Following the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted in the Army and was posted to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force where he became an assistant to the Observation Officer, sketching enemy equipment and locations in the field. After being posted to the frontline, Allen was gravely injured saving the life of a superior officer; he lost a leg but was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry.

After being discharged from the Army in 1918, Allen returned to work in Sheffield and became an active member of the thriving arts societies in the region. However, it was not until he was made redundant in 1931 that he became a full-time professional artist. Part of the Yorkshire Artists group, he would go on to have 39 paintings accepted to show at the Royal Academy over 23 years. His work focused on the landscape, often with figures at work chopping wood or bringing home cows, or at leisure at sheepdog trials or working on allotments. Typically depicting the Pennines around Sheffield and North Derbyshire, Allen also frequently painted in Ireland, particularly along the West Coast.

Often described as ‘surreal’, Allen’s distinctive painting style is rather a simplified and highly stylised view of the landscape with an emphasis on linearity over naturalistic depth and detail. His use of tempera for many of his paintings resulted in a matte finish to his work, which further flattened form. Instead, the layers of the landscape are defined by exaggerated rolling hills and undulations, and criss-crossing networks of walls and hedges. The present collection is dominated by watercolour sketches, which are executed in Allen’s characteristic style; boldly painted lines delineate form, which are infilled with flat washes of thin colour.

Highlights of the collection include: "Lady at Piano" possible the Artist's wife Lucy (£250-400 plus buyer’s premium), “Haystack” (£180-250 plus buyer’s premium), "Rambler" and “Bus and Car” (£100-150 plus buyer’s premium), “Farm Buildings” (£150-250 plus buyer’s premium), and “Plough” and “Sacks” (£80-120 plus buyer’s premium).

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