May 18, 2023 10.00 pm This story is over 6 months old

From grocer to artist: The astonishing art collection of Herbert Rollett discovered

It will be auctioned next week

A spectacular hoard of paintings by the legendary Lincolnshire grocer-artist, Herbert Rollett, will be auctioned next week after being discovered during a flat clearance in Essex.

The remarkable hoard, consisting of over a dozen Rollett paintings, came to light when specialists were instructed to clear the home of one of his granddaughters in Saffron Walden.

The astonished team found every wall in the place covered with paintings.

In addition to the Rollett paintings, the hoard included a collection of watercolours by his artist daughter, Kathleen. It also included portraits of Rollett and Kathleen by painter friends, sketchbooks, and other memorabilia.

A portrait of the grocer-artist Herbert Rollett by Jack Gibson.

Herbert Rollett (1872-1932), was pushed into the grocery trade by his farmer father in Huckerby near Gainsborough, and didn’t start painting seriously until he was almost 30 years old.

Despite running his business, he made time to paint by rising at 5.30am in the morning and venturing into the Lincolnshire countryside. He would then return to his shop in Grimsby to sell cheese and butter.

Rollett’s artistic breakthrough came in 1921 with an exhibition at the Victoria Galleries in Hull. His work was showcased in various shows in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, the Royal Scottish Academy, and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.

Sails on the Humber – one of the paintings from the Rollett hoard.

In 1924, Rollett’s first painting was accepted by the Paris Salon, and a Lincolnshire landscape became the first of his paintings to be accepted by the Royal Academy.

The Rollett hoard has been entrusted to Louth auctioneers, John Taylors, and will be auctioned at the Old Wool Mart on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.

Auctioneer James Laverack said: “It is a wonderful find that I understand took the clearance team completely by surprise.

“They had no idea the Saffron Walden flat was packed with art – and they knew nothing about Herbert Rollett. Fortunately, they took the time to do an online search and they began to realise what they had on their hands.

“A number of the paintings in the hoard featured in the last major exhibition of Rollett’s work, a show at the Welholme Gallery in Grimsby in 1988.

“Those include ‘Sails on the Humber’, a view of the north bank of the river looking towards Hull, two paintings of Newsham Lake, a favourite spot on the Earl of Yarborough’s Brocklesby Estate, and various scenes in the Lincolnshire countryside that Rollett said was in his opinion superior even to the Lake District or the Scottish Highlands.”

A portrait of Rollett’s daughter Kathleen painted by Vincent Galloway, the first curator of Hull’s Ferens Art Gallery.

The auctioneer added: “It’s a remarkable collection of the work of a quite remarkable artist. A man who was serving groceries behind the counter of a shop in Lincolnshire whilst his paintings were hanging on the walls of the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon.”

“He obviously never got grand indeed, he was actually quite ready to use artistic success to plug the grocery business. In one article he was quoted as saying, ‘I would be happy to carry on selling anybody the best butter and cheese – even if I had 20 pictures in the Academy!’”

The fully illustrated sale catalogue is available online at The viewing sessions are on Sunday and Monday, May 21 and 22 (1pm-3pm).

The auction starts at 10am on Tuesday, May 23 and will be webcast live on the internet.

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