On the afternoon of December 13th, Sotheby’s offered up a sale of 19th & 20th-century British art — guys and gals, come on … it is time to scale back. I understand that the auction rooms want to grab as much of the market as possible, but flooding it with more works than can be absorbed is not smart. It does not help the art market, the artist’s values, and it really hurts the owners of all the unsold works. Anyway, let’s get on with the results (all sale prices are the hammer and unless otherwise noted, do not include the buyer’s premium).
John W. Godward’s At the Fountain was the day’s winner when it sold for £300K/$380K, at the low end of its £300-500K estimate. While this work had not been seen in over 50 years, it just did not have that wow factor that some of the artist’s other works possess. In second was The Three Marys, a Burne-Jones’ watercolor that carried a £150-200K estimate and sold for £210K/$266K – beating the upper end of the range. In third was David Roberts’ View From Waterloo Bridge, Embracing St. Pauls, Somerset House and Temple which was last on the market in 1980 and brought £205K/$260K – almost doubling the upper end of its £80-120K estimate. Rounding out the top five were Laura Knight’s Motley, Preparing for Her Entrance at £200K/$253K (est. £100-150K), and a staple of the Victorian market – John Atkinson Grimshaw, whose A Moated Yorkshire Home hammered at the low end of its £150-200K estimate – £150K/$190K.
There were a few other nice surprises in the sale. A small (10 ½ x 5 ¾ inches) drawing by Burne-Jones was expected to sell for £12-18K and brought £43K/$54.5K; Henry Scott Tuke’s Watching the Sea, a 14 x 10-inch watercolor made £80K/$101K (est. £50-70K); and a 16 x 12.5 inch portrait of Laura Knight, by her husband Harold Knight, sparked some serious competition and sold for £70K/$89K (est. £10-15K). Among the artists whose works were among the priciest in the sale and found no interest was John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (est. £100-150K); J.F. Herring, Sr. (est. £100-150K); Stanhope Forbes (£40-60K and £30-50K); Russell Flint (£40-60K); and Edward Seago (£30-50K).
Of the 87 works that passed across the podium, 60 sold (69%) and the sale grossed £2.57M/$3.26M. The low end of their presale estimate range was £2.75M/$3.48M, so they fell a little short and needed the addition of the buyer’s premium to make the grade – £3.21M/$4.07M with commissions. It was interesting to see that 36 of the 60 sold works fell within their estimate range (albeit 25 of those were right on the low end). Another 16 sold above and 8 below, this gave them an accuracy rate of 41.3% — pretty strong.