On Wednesday, September 21, Bonhams’ New Bond Street location in London hosted their 19th Century and British Impressionist art sale, with a total of seventy-five lots crossing the block. While several impressive lots sold that day, the sale as a whole fell a bit short, mainly because of a lack of interest in some of the more expensive (or, some might say, over-estimated) pieces. However, the same cannot be said about the sale’s top lot, The Last Sight of Fiammetta by Marie Spartali Stillman. While it was expected to be one of the more valuable pieces sold at the sale, it seems Bonhams’ specialists did not predict that the bidders that day would blow right past the £100K high estimate, going back and forth for several minutes before the hammer came down at £230K / $260.8K (or £290.1K / $328.9K w/p). Perhaps this was because of Stillman’s connection to the work’s subject. On top of being an accomplished painter, Stillman was one of the most popular models for Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painters like Dante Gabriel Rossetti. One of Rossetti’s most famous works that featured Stillman as a model is A Vision of Fiammetta, portraying the muse of the Italian Renaissance writer Giovanni Boccaccio. Stillman’s Fiammetta was created around the same time she modeled for Rossetti’s.
Besides the Stillman painting, the sale’s other top lots were more or less what Bonhams’ house experts predicted. Coming in behind Fiammetta was Love at First Sight by Arthur John Elsley, a rather large 42 x 56.25-inch oil on canvas painting executed in 1907. While it only sold for £90K / $102.1K (or £113.7K / $128.9K w/p), just shy of the £100K low estimate, Love at First Sight is, regardless, the most expensive work by Elsley sold at auction since 2013 when his Hold Up, Here He Comes sold at Christie’s London for £146.5K / $239.2K w/p. And finally, just behind the Elsley, The River Dove by Sir Alfred James Munnings hit its low estimate at £80K / $90.7K (or £101.1K / $114.65K w/p). This was definitely an improvement from the last time the Munnings crossed the block, which was back in February 2019 at Christie’s New York when it sold for $70K (or $87.5K w/p).
The combined pre-sale estimates predicted the sale as a whole would bring in at least £1.37M, which makes the final total hammer price of £1.14M (or $1.29M) just a little disappointing. While the sale had a 67% sold rate, many of the more prominent lots were the ones that went unsold. Among these were a Venetian cityscape by Federico del Campo created in 1899 (estimated at £80K to £120K), as well as an orientalist work by Etienne Dinet showing a group of Berber boys enjoying some downtime (estimated at £100K to £150K). About seven other paintings throughout the sale were estimated to reach at least £20K. Had their respective reserves/estimates been lower, that would have sparked more interest, and created a more successful sale for Bonhams.