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Bonhams London 19th Century

September 28, 2023

A street scene of Glasgow, close to the docks on the River Clyde at dusk.

Gourock Dock, Glasgow by John Atkinson Grimshaw

On Wednesday, September 27th, Bonhams' location on New Bond Street in London hosted one of its 19th Century and British Impressionist sales, featuring one hundred nine lots by artists like Edward Seago, Archibald Thorburn, and Edward Lear, among many others. Bonhams’ specialists seem to have done rather well, predicting many of the top lots with some degree of accuracy. The top two lots were both by the British painter John Atkinson Grimshaw. Expected to sell for between £60K and £80K, Gourock Dock, Glasgow is a relatively small oil painting, measuring 12 by 18 inches. It shows a hazy street scene in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, where pedestrians and carriages travel down a main Street next to the docks on the River Clyde. It last sold at Christie’s London in 1992, going for £13K hammer, which would be about £27.3K / $33.1K today. It did significantly better this time, selling for slightly above estimate at £85K / $103.2K (or £108.4K / $131.6K w/p). The other painting, which immediately preceded it, is a more rural scene entitled A Moonlit Lane, Roundhay. Set just north of Leeds, the work is part of a series Grimshaw created in Roundhay in the early 1870s. Estimated to sell for between £50K and £70K, A Moonlit Lane sold exactly at its high estimate at £70K / $85K (or £89.3K / $108.5K w/p).

A painting of a country road at night, surrounded by tres with a single carriage.

A Moonlit Lane, Roundhay by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Third place ended up with a tie. The Birth of a Fairy by John Anster Fitzgerald is an incredibly fantastical work that looks less like a nineteenth-century watercolor and more like a scene from a Lewis Carroll work brought to life by the Hildebrandt Brothers. It is incredibly colorful and whimsical, with a broad ensemble of characters surrounding this small, white baby fairy emerging from a flower. Birds and insects, both anthropomorphized and naturally depicted, surround the entire scene. Fitzgerald was well-known during his lifetime for this kind of work, as fairies, other mythological beings, and the supernatural in general were of great interest to the general population of Victorian Britain. Meanwhile, there was also Return from the Hunt by John Frederick Herring Sr. An oil painting created in 1852, the Herring scene shows a pair of hunters with their dogs, likely in Scotland based on the landscape and the two men's clothing. They have a pair of horses, upon which they have strapped some recently-shot deer. Bonhams house experts assigned the Fitzgerald an estimate range of £60K to £80K, while the Herring received a £40K to £60K estimate. Both fell within their ranges, hitting the lower end for the former at the high end for the latter at £60K / $72.9K (or £76.6K / $93K w/p).

A fantasy scene of a baby fairy being born from a white flower, surrounded by other fairies as well as natural and anthropomorphic birds and insects

The Birth of a Fairy by John Anster Fitzgerald

Regarding surprises, there were only two of note. First was an interesting oil painting by the nineteenth-century Croatian artist Nikola Mašić. Created in Munich in 1879, Picking Pumpkins shows some peasant women removing pumpkins from their vines while a flock of turkeys comes in to inspect what’s going on. The painting was initially estimated to sell for no more than £7K. But with October right around the corner, I guess it’s not exactly surprising that some bidders that day drove the final price up to £19K / $23K (or £23.3K / $29.5K w/p), or around 2.7 times the high estimate. A little later on in the sale, there was a work by the English painter Henry Scott Tuke, mainly known for his male nudes. Though not a nude work, the painting Expectant shows a male youth sitting against a rock on the beach with his trouser legs rolled up. At the bottom right, Tuke’s spaniel Chippy is seen joining the boy. This work was most likely executed around 1921 on Newporth Beach, a little spot just south of the Cornish town of Falmouth, where Tuke had lived since he was a toddler. Records indicate the boy was likely a local teenager named Donald Rolph, who later modeled in several other Tuke paintings. Predicted by Bonhams specialists to sell for £20K at most, the beach portrait eventually sold for £55K / $66.80K (or £70.3K / $85.3K w/p), or 2.75 times the high estimate.

A painting of two horses carrying two dead deer upon their backs. Meanwhile, the pair of hunters relaxes behind them with their dogs all around.

Return from the Hunt by John Frederick Herring, Sr.

There was also another surprise, but this one wasn’t entirely positive. The expected star of the sale was a large oil painting by Sir Alfred James Munnings. The Old Gravel Pit, Swainsthorpe shows some horses grazing at the titular pit near a small town in Norfolk. The work is considered one of Munnings’s best from his early career, from around 1907, when the artist was about 29. Specialists identify the white horse in the foreground as Augereau, who appeared in many of Munnings’s works starting around this time. Soon after being first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1908, a couple bought the piece for £150, or close to £15,000 in today’s money. The last time it sold at auction was at Sotheby’s London in 1995 for £185K hammer. Bonhams specialists gave the work an estimate range of £300K to £500K this time. However, when it finally came across the block, interest in the painting was unfortunately insufficient, and it went unsold. The sale’s underperformance cannot be blamed entirely on the Munnings, though, as it was one of thirty-three lots bought-in that day, giving the sale a 70% sell-through rate. Of the lots that sold, thirty-four sold within estimate, giving Bonhams specialists a 31% accuracy rate. Twenty-nine lots (27%) sold below estimate, while thirteen (12%) sold above. All one hundred nine lots brought in a total of £1,193,800 against a total pre-sale estimate range of £1.7 million and £2.6 million.