On Wednesday, July 13th, Bonhams’ Knightsbridge saleroom in London hosted their Modern British & Irish sale. While Sotheby’s hosted a similar sale that day, the Bonhams sale did far better than their counterparts across town. Well, most sales would probably fare better than Sotheby’s European & British sale, since forty-six percent of the lots went unsold. Bonhams, on the other hand, was very successful that day.
Bonhams specialists did very well, with most of the higher-valued lots selling within their estimates. The top lot was what the specialists predicted: Aerial View of Westminster by the British wildlife artist David Shepherd, who passed away in 2017. The work was done in oil paint on a massive canvas, measuring a little over five feet by eight feet. The size is necessary to achieve such meticulous detail, giving the viewer an incredible view of central London from the north bank of the Thames. Most impressive are the spires on the Palace of Westminster, the flying buttresses at Westminster Abbey, and the exhaustive work done to place an innumerable amount of cars and red double-decker buses on Westminster, Jubilee, and Waterloo Bridges. Though Bonhams experts predicted the panorama would fetch £50K at most, the cityscape brought in £88K / $105K (or £111.2K / $132.7K w/p). Coming in second, though expected to bring in more than Shepherd’s Aerial View, Terence Cuneo’s Night Express – Southern Region has, until now, been in the same private collection since its commission in 1976. Despite this being its first time coming to auction, the work only hit its £40K low estimate, the equivalent of $47.7K (or £50.7K / $60.5K w/p). Finally, there was the 1951 oil painting Les Baux by Frederick Gore, which was actually one of the sale’s little surprises. It’s a moderately-sized work, measuring about twenty by twenty-four inches. It’s also in the very distinct style of the artist, who in the 1950s was considered one of the top figurative artists when many well-known painters were experimenting with abstract forms. Despite all that, Les Baux was only predicted to go for between £4K and £6K. But it ended up more than doubling its high estimate when the hammer came down at £14K / $16.7K (or £17.9K / $21.3K w/p).
However, the Frederick Gore wasn’t the only big surprise that day. In fact, the very first lot across the block turned out to be the biggest surprise of the sale. Henry Lamb’s painting Sketch for Family Group is only about nine by nine inches and was valued at £1,200 maximum. So the day started with a pretty impressive bang when bidders went back and forth on the work for a few minutes, driving up the final hammer price to land at £11.5K / $13.7K (or £14.7K / $17.5K w/p). You know it’ll probably be a good sale when the very first lot fetches over nine times what the house specialists predicted it would. Out of two hundred six available lots, Bonhams house experts gave accurate estimates for sixty-five of them, or about 32%. An additional seventy-two lots, or 35%, sold for over their estimates. All in all, only thirty-eight of the two hundred six lots went unsold, giving Bonhams a sold rate of 82%.