WHEN ill health forced him to stop work, Hampshire artist John Emms became so hard-up that some sympathetic tradesmen in the village took his paintings in lieu of payment.
Since Emms’s death in 1912, the year the Titanic sank, the value of his work has steadily soared and at an auction in America next Wednesday one of his oil paintings, of three pointers, Ruby and Companions, is estimated to fetch between £31,000 and £43,000.
Emms specialised in pictures of dogs and horses.
Norfolk-born Emms moved to Lyndhurst in the 1880s and built a large house with a studio there named The Firs, in Queens Road.
In 1880, when he was 37, he married Lyndhurst girl Fanny Primmer, who, at 21, was 16 years younger than Emms. Between 1883 and 1894 they had five children – Dorothy, Margery, Barton, Gladys and George Henry.
In her book The Dictionary of British Equestrian Artists, Sally Mitchell says Emms’ dog pictures are “outstanding.”
She said: “It is said that Emms always wore a long black cloak and a wide brimmed black hat. He and his family lived a fairly Bohemian way of life.
“When he sold a picture, he would take his family to London, where they stayed at the best hotels, bought new clothes and generally lived it up until the money was spent.
“Early in the (20th) century, Emms suffered ill health and was unable to work and one time the village tradesmen had his pictures on their walls in lieu of payment of their accounts.
“Things were so bad that the family became destitute.”
John Emms was 69 when he died.
His 1895 painting of a Dandie Dinmont Terrier is owned by and on show at the National Gallery of Scotland.
His painting Ruby and Companions which Emms produced in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, will be auctioned at Bonhams in New York next Wednesday. It has been put up for sale by a collector from Houston, Texas.
Charles O’Brien, a director of Bonhams told the Daily Echo: “Ruby and Compan-ions is an outstanding example of the mature work of John Emms. Almost certainly a commission work, the artist has captured the majesty of the breed, whilst still retaining the individual character of each dog.
“New Forest-based Emms is regarded as one of the best sporting artists of the late 19th century, whose work is always popular at auction.”
Eight years ago, at Bonhams in New York, Emms’ painting New Forest Foxhounds sold for £483,688, a new world auction record for an Emms work. It was produced in 1898, the year after Ruby and Companions.