On Wednesday, July 6th, the Bonhams New Bond Street location hosted their Old Masters sale. There were some impressive pieces up for sale, but Bonhams specialists were probably a little surprised when the results came in. Not many of their predicted top lots amounted to much. Not only did some go unsold, but the pieces that brought in the most for Bonhams seemed to have come out of nowhere. Originally, Bonhams specialists expected Bartolomeo Passarotti’s Portrait of a Collector and Edward Collier’s A trompe l’oeil still life to bring in a minimum of £200K and £100K, respectively. Both ended up going unsold. The only highly valued lot that did as expected was A black and white spaniel by the English painter George Stubbs. The moderately-sized oil painting hit its low estimate when the hammer came down at £200K / $237.9K (£252.3K / $300.1K w/p). But the Stubbs work confirms a theory I’ve held for some months now: the auction house is no different from social media and the Internet. If a dog is involved, it will get more attention. This theory started with Sotheby’s Impressionist sale in Paris and Bonhams 19th Century sale back in April.
The other two top lots that accompanied the Stubbs spaniel were also some of the biggest surprises the sale had to offer. The top lot was a rather small, oil-on-panel work by an unknown artist entitled Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. While the artist’s identity is unknown, art historians have attributed several other pieces to the same hand. So because we’re only able to identify the artist by their particular style, experts have given this painter a provisional name: Master of the Embroidered Foliage. While estimated to sell between £25K and £30K, several buyers were dead-set on acquiring this little biblical scene, driving the hammer price up to £640K / $761.3K (£806.7K / $959.6K w/p). This was a whopping twenty-one times more than the specialists’ high estimate. This is particularly impressive since the work last sold at Christie’s London in 1934 for a mere £819. That would equal about £41K in 2021, but even that’s pretty remarkable. Coming in third place, another surprise to the Bonhams specialists, was A brown thoroughbred by the English equestrian painter James Seymour. It’s a rather large work, measuring almost two-and-a-half feet by four-and-a-half feet, which experts thought would go for £50K at most. But the hammer came down two-and-a-half times that, with the horse and rider going for £125K / $148.7K (£157.8K / $187.7K w/p).
The only downside to the sale was that out of seventy-three available lots, thirty-four of them (44%) went unsold. However, for those that sold, Bonhams experts achieved a pretty decent accuracy rate, with twenty-two lots (30%) selling within their estimates. The entire sale brought in £1.4M (or $1.7M), slightly over the total minimum estimate; thanks, of course, to the Master of the Embroidered Foliage!