Work by artist whose other pictures are hanging in London's Portrait Gallery discovered at local church sale in Harborough

The pictures were found at the church sale.The pictures were found at the church sale.
The pictures were found at the church sale.
Manning a church fete stall led to the discovery of two original pieces of art which were nearly sold for £3 – while the artist’s other work hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Sheila Caberwell was working on the bric-a-brac stall for Little Bowden’s St Nicholas Parish Church’s event earlier this year.

The 64-year-old got there early to set up a stall in the scout hut and price up the items from between £2 and £5.

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But Sheila – a scientist and retired teacher – said there was something about one of the pictures which stood out.

More work by the artist was uncovered when the portraits were taken to a local gallery.More work by the artist was uncovered when the portraits were taken to a local gallery.
More work by the artist was uncovered when the portraits were taken to a local gallery.

She told the Mail: “There was one picture that caught my eye. It was two pen and ink portraits in a black frame. There was something which commanded my attention. As a student I studied A Level biology and in those days you had to be able to draw living organisms in pen and ink.

“These portraits were scribbled lines. They conspired to give you an impression. Somehow they captured the essence of the person. Not the anatomical detail that I understand.”

After looking in more detail at the picture she saw the name ‘Arrobus’ and a date, with the address on the back for ‘Sydney Arrobus Studio A’ in London.Sheila added: “The handwriting matched the writing on the front. I felt a tremor of excitement. I was holding an original which had been signed and dated by the artist with a providence.

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“I told the vicar that I couldn’t sell the portraits as they felt special and I wanted to research it.”

Sheila Caberwell (left) and another church member at the valuation day.Sheila Caberwell (left) and another church member at the valuation day.
Sheila Caberwell (left) and another church member at the valuation day.

After looking into the artist she found his name was Sydney Arrobus and has portraits hanging in the National Gallery in London.

He was Jewish, born in 1901 and lived until 1990 in Cricklewood in London. He is best known for pen and ink portraits and watercolour English villages.

The artist has five portraits currently hanging in the National Portrait Gallery.

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Wanting to authenticate the images, mum-of-one Sheila went to local gallery Wingates.

It was then staff discovered there was a third painting hidden underneath.Sheila said: “We were stunned and excited. It was clear the picture frame had never been opened before.

“The back board was lifted and we saw another pen and ink portrait. This too was signed and dated. It read ‘Porto Roco Sad Couple, Blonde wife 7 -9 -73’.”

Self-confessed art aficionado Sheila asked to leave the painting at the gallery, but this was rejected as there was a possibility the value of the art would exceed the gallery’s insurance limits.

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She contacted antiques dealer Charles Hanson – a regular on BBC’s Bargain Hunt and Antiques Road Show – and was encouraged to go to a valuations day at Kelmarsh House in Northamptonshire.

Sheila added: “Our expert valuer was Jim Spencer who specialised in prints. He loved our story and more importantly loved the portraits.

“He noticed it was the artist’s own label on the back, which meant Sydney Arrobus had personally selected these drawings for display and had valued them himself.”

The pictures have now been put up for auction on 23 Aug at Bishton Hall, Wolseley Bridge in Staffordshire with a fixed reserve of £50.