Purchase Story

Letter from London, May 2018

The big money lots in this month’s selection are to be found among the Impressionist and modern pictures sold in London at the end of February, but an old master “find” that made some 100 times its estimated price and a sunny example of the work of Dame Laura Knight also find a pictorial place. And then there is a selection of the political cartoons and caricatures that made up the Jeffrey Archer collection.

A record-shattering item of British studio pottery from the 1970s, a couple of Picasso’s pots, and a paintbox made for a doomed future Tsar are also featured. And then there is the curious case of the empty longcase.


Unreserved and Undervalued Picasso Pots

Two examples of the work of Pablo Picasso as potter, or ceramicist, were included in an Impressionist and modern art sale held by Bonhams on March 1, and both sold well over estimates.

Illustrated below is Oiseau et Poissons, a 19" high russet and white finished vase. Catalogued as “conceived” in 1955 and executed in a numbered edition of 25, and more specifically as an “exemplaire editeur,” it is stamped inside the neck “Emprente Originale de Picasso, Madoura Plein Feu, E.E.”

The Madoura Pottery at Vallauris, southern France, was home to Picasso in the years 1946-55 and where he produced some of his best-known ceramic work. It has been estimated that some 9000 pieces came out of Madoura between 1947 and 1971.

The bird and fish vase made $193,637, while Gros oiseau Picasso, a 23" high partially glazed and engraved vase, conceived in 1953 and produced in an edition of 75, made $211,241.

As well as bearing a stylised version of the artist’s name, the latter is inscribed and dated “Vallauris 23.3.53” and stamped and numbered “Edition Picasso, Madoura, Plein Feu 41/75” inside the neck.

Both pieces were offered without reserve, as were all those lots valued at less than $70,000 that, four weeks later, formed part of estate of the late Dr. Walid Juffali, a Saudi billionaire whose three English properties provided Bonhams with a March 26 sale of paintings, antiques, sculpture, and works of art.

That is a sale, conducted in one of those English residences, Bishopsgate in Egham, Surrey, to which I will return in the next issue.

Pablo Picasso’s Oiseau et Poissons, $193,637.

Pablo Picasso’s Gros oiseau Picasso, $211,241.


A Pictorial Guide to Jeffrey Archer’s Latest Bestsellers

The name of Jeffrey Archer may or may not mean a great deal to a U.S. readership, though some may have read one or more of his novels.

Archer has enjoyed a career of remarkable highs and lows. He served five years as an English MP, or Member of Parliament, enjoyed high political office in England for a brief period in the 1980s, and in 2000 was the Conservative Party’s preferred candidate for Mayor of London.

But then there were the financial scandals and near bankruptcy as well as huge success as a best-selling novelist, as well as belated exposure and imprisonment for perjury during a libel case that he had won years earlier.

Jeffrey Archer, or Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare, to give him his full title, has himself been the subject of many a caricature and cartoon, but these, however, were not to be found in the March 14 sale held by Sotheby’s to disperse the political cartoon collection that he has built up over a number of years with the collaboration and guidance of Chris Beetles, a well-known U.K. specialist dealer in the field.

Archer had at one stage hoped that the 221-lot collection might find an institutional home but encountered little enthusiasm for the idea, said Sotheby’s, and off to auction it went instead.

In the saleroom private buying was very much to the fore as 174 of those lots sold for close on $800,000.

Winston Churchill, as seen by Max Beerbohm, “Nibs,” Ronald Searle, and others, was very much one of the star turns of the sale.

At $66,345, a more or less straightforward wartime portrait of a cigar-smoking Winnie by Max Beerbohm (1872-1956), albeit with the smoke from the cigar forming a second profile portrait, was one of the day’s best-sellers.

A much earlier example of Beerbohm’s work, a 1909 ink and watercolour drawing called Draughting a Bill at the Board of Trade, was bid to $38,410. In that work, a young Churchill, seated in an armchair and surrounded by older officials, says, “Oh, I understand all these figures, right enough. What we’ve got to do, Gentlemen, is to put some–er–humanising ginger into ’em.”

Rupert Hart-Davis in his 1972 Catalogue of the Caricatures of Max Beerbohmnotes that this cartoon was at one time in Winston’s possession and is reproduced in Randolph Churchill’s biography of his father.

In his catalogue introduction to the sale, Chris Beetles noted that a Ronald Searle (1920-2011) cartoon called Art: the British public knowing what it likes..., yet another Churchill-inspired work, was Jeffrey Archer’s first purchase.

It was published in 1954 in Punch, a much-loved weekly magazine with humour and satire at its heart that was founded in 1841 and kept English audiences informed and amused until the end of the last century.

Searle’s drawing depicts angry men and fainting women, all appalled at their first sight of a portrait commissioned by Parliament from one of England’s more famous 20th-century artists, Graham Sutherland.

The painting was intended to celebrate Churchill’s 80th birthday, and Sutherland had done nothing to disguise the effects of age in his portrait of the Prime Minister.

Churchill by Max Beerbohm, $66,345.

Churchill by Ronald Searle, $19,205.

French Invasion by James Gillray, $66,345.

Churchill hated it, complaining that it made him look half-witted, and it subsequently emerged that his wife, Clementine, had decided that it should trouble him no more and had the painting destroyed.

Searle’s splendid cartoon was sold for $19,205.

Matched in price only by Beerbohm’s cigar-smoking Churchill was one of the earlier items in the collection, Consequences of a successful French Invasion... or We fly on the wings of the wind to save the Irish Catholics from persecution, a political cartoon of 1798 by James Gillray (1756/7-1815).

Widely recognised, said Sotheby’s, as one of the finer Gillrays to have come onto the market in recent times, this too sold for $66,345.

It boasted an excellent provenance as a work from the collection of Draper Hill, whose biography of Gillray was published by Phaidon in 1965, and whose collection of Gillray prints and drawings was sold by Phillips in 2001.

Having studied at London’s Slade School of Fine Art on a Fulbright scholarship, Draper Hill first worked as a political cartoonist on the Patriot Ledger in Massachusetts and later for the Worcester Telegram, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and the Detroit News.

John Tenniel’s Nuts, $38,410.

Prime Ministers by Max Beerbohm, $45,395.

Signed and dated 1882, a pencil and crayon cartoon by John Tenniel (1820-1914) called Nuts to Crackthat sold for $38,410 draws on Darwin’s well-known evolutionary ideas to illustrate some of the difficulties facing Parliament at the time.

At the centre lies a fallen tree, representing systematic obstruction by Irish nationalists of parliamentary procedure in order to call attention to their own political preoccupations.

The principal characters all hold nuts labelled with issues for debate. The dominant central figure is Prime Minister William Gladstone, who holds one bearing the French term “clôture,”     relating to the difficulties of bringing debates to a close. To his left is seen the foreign secretary, Lord Granville, hugging a nut marked “Egypt.” This is a reference to the problem of who had control over the Suez Canal.

At the rear of the work the only real simian figure present raises its arms in despair.

Prime Ministers in my day..., another Beerbohm caricature, dates to 1929 and features the heads of the 11 men who had served as Britain’s PM in his lifetime—beginning at bottom right with the unmistakable profiles of Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. It sold at $45,395.

Published in the Evening Standard in November 1945 as the trials of major war criminals began, a David Low (1891-1963) cartoon called simply Nuremberg was an example of a rather grimmer sense of humour.

Arm outstretched, Hermann Goering exclaims, “No drums, no trumpets, no banners – Pah! How much better we would have done it.” It sold at $27,935.

A cartoon from a 1963 issue of the Daily Express, the newspaper with which the work of Ronald Carl Giles (1916-1995), known as “Giles,” is inextricably linked, has some resonance today.

It refers to the infiltration of the British establishment by Soviet spies such as Kim Philby and was prompted by an editorial comment in that paper: “In half an hour in a country pub the Russians would learn far more about the British than in all the museums and trading centres in the land.”

The figure in black in the right foreground is the fearsome matriarch of the extended Giles family of cartoon regulars, known simply as Grandma. It sold for $10,475.

Used in one of the saleroom’s front windows, a cartoon of a future British PM, Tony Blair, feasting on the carcase of the then-Prime Minister, John Major, proved quite an attraction and was one of many examples of the work of Peter Brookes (b. 1943) featured in the Archer sale.

The Peter Brookes’ quartet: “Rabid Bat” Thatcher, $4889; Sisyphus, $7330; Queen of soccer, $11,350; and “Bambi” Blair, $4190.

 

Has Bambi got Teeth?, used on the front cover of the weekly magazine The Spectator in October 1994, was sold at $4190, while bid to $4889 was Brookes’ ink and watercolour original for one of the dozen examples of his familiar “Nature Notes” cartoons on offer. Dating from 1997, it depicts Margaret Thatcher as a “Rabid Old Bat.”

There were no fewer than 24 examples of Brookes’ work in the sale, most of which sold—but not all were intended to promote laughter or scorn.

Bid to $7330 was Sisyphus..., which appeared in an August 2006 issue of The Times and relates to the UN’s seemingly impossible task of brokering a peace deal between Hezbollah and Israel.

Nuremburg by David Low, $27,935.

Grandma and the Russians by Giles, $10,475.

The last of Brookes’ works to be offered, and the most expensive at $11,350, was a 2013 cartoon, yet again from The Times, showing the Queen demonstrating her soccer skills.

The title, Retire? Pah! Sir Alex Schmalex, refers to suggestions in some quarters that Alex Ferguson had outstayed his long welcome as manager of leading U.K. soccer team Manchester United, and that after 60 years on the throne, HM the Queen should abdicate in favour of her son, Prince Charles.


A Paint Box Fit for a Lad Born To Be a Tsar

“Noble and Private Collections,” a sale held by Christie’s on March 14, was the source for two lots featured here—a pair of Meissen models and a very fancy paint box that is thought to have Imperial Russian connections. The two Meissen models both featured a jay and a squirrel as principal components, bore blue crossed sword marks, and were dated to 1740-45, and though slightly different in design, they were sold as pair for $55,870.

Modelled by J.J. Kändler, each has a bird perched on an oak tree stump, but one (illustrated right) has a red squirrel to one side, while the other depicts a squirrel emerging from a hole in the tree stump, beside a nest in which a bird is feeding its chicks.

One of the pair of Meissen groups sold by Christie’s for $55,870.

Open and closed views of a deluxe paint box with Russian Imperial connections that made $38,410.

Kändler first modelled a pair of jays for Augustus the Strong’s famous Japanese Palace in 1735.

Once part of the Russian Imperial collections, it is believed, the Napoleon III period ormolu-mounted, cut-brass, inlaid red tortoiseshell “boulle” marquetry, ebony, and ebonised coffret peintureor paint box, illustrated both closed and open (far right), is rather special, and there is a suggestion that it may have belonged to a boy destined to be a Tsar.

Made by Alphonse Giroux of Paris around 1860, it sold for $38,410.

At 22" wide, it is inlaid overall with etched cut-brass acanthus scrolls and has a serpentine top centred by a crown with an orb and cross. The hinged lid encloses rosewood-veneered compartments set with silvered trays that retain five pigment bottles, a solvent bottle, and a double palette cup. Beneath are two drawers, the upper and larger one having a red velvet-lined drawer that holds various palette knives and brush holders.

It bears the insignia of the Imperial Crown of Russia, and according to Christie’s, it seems likely that the paint box was a gift from Tsar Alexander II to his eldest son and heir, Nicholas Alexandrovich, known in the family as “Nixa.”

The Tsarevich was a young man “of great promise, of decided opinions and highly cultured,” noted the cataloguer, and it seems he was also a gifted amateur artist. Sadly, he died at the age of 21 after contracting meningitis.

On his deathbed “Nixa” bestowed the hand in marriage of his intended bride, Princess Dagmar, second daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark, to his younger brother Alexander—the future Tsar Alexander III.

The absence of an inventory number, said Christie’s, may imply that the paint box was a personal object and perhaps left the Imperial collections before the revolution.

Maison Giroux, established in Paris in the late 1790s, expanded their operation as a supplier of fine paints and varnishes to become makers and purveyors of luxury goods, which included boullework tables, cabinets, jardinières, and small boxes.

In the mid-1840s, their Parisian store occupied three floors, one devoted to art and painting materials, the mezzanine to stationery and frames, and the first floor reserved for luxury articles.

It is highly likely, said Christie’s, that the coffret was not only made by the firm but fitted out by them too.


The Case of the Pendulum and the Lost Lantern

Only recently rediscovered, the star turn of a March 15 clock and scientific instrument sale held in Newbury by Dreweatts should have been a pendulum sea clock—a real rarity billed as “the first attempt to establish longitude at sea with a purpose-made mechanical timepiece” and valued at around $170,000/350,000.

The historic “pendulum sea clock” offered unsuccessfully by Dreweatts.

The “empty” 17th-century longcase, the glazed doors open, and a closeup showing a lantern clock of the period sitting inside it. The empty case made $29,635, and the lantern clock, $19,220.

Seventeen illustrated pages of the catalogue were devoted to a detailed account of the creation and rediscovery of this historic timepiece, its movement made in The Hague circa 1662 by Severijn Oosterwicjk for Alexander Bruce, in collaboration with the inventor of the pendulum clock, Christiaan Huygens, and Robert Moray.

On the day, however, it failed to sell, but those M.A.D. readers with a keen historical-cum-horological interest—and I know from past correspondence that they are out there—can still find the full account online (www.bloomsburyauctions.com/cms/pages/lot/14080/108).

That failure left as one of the more successful lots in this Berkshire sale what is essentially an empty clock case—a tall architecturally styled floor-standing case that would have been home to an early lantern clock.

The oak case has undergone a number of alterations over the years—among them an increase in the span of the glazed arches that allowed access to the clock that sat inside—but it is thought probable that it originated in the second quarter of the 17th century and prior to the period of the English Civil War.

What can today be seen inside the upper glazed portion is a later print of Britannia, seated on a globe, but another of the accompanying illustrations shows it with a lantern clock, also part of the Dreweatts sale, seated inside.

The case was sold for $29,635, and the lantern clock, dated to 1620-30 and possibly the work of a London maker by the name of Richard Milborne, sold at $19,220.


Dame Laura Spends a Day at the Seaside

Writing at the tail end of March and with a good show of spring daffodils out in the garden but with rain presently beating against the windows of my garden office, the bright colours and fluffy white clouds of this happy family group portrait provided a welcome lift of the spirits.

Simply titled A Seaside Holiday, it is the work of Laura Knight (1877-1970), who began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1903 but had to wait another 33 years before she was graciously allowed to take her place alongside the menfolk as the first woman in that national institution’s then 168-year history to be elected a Royal Academician and attach those esteemed letters, RA, to her name.

Laura had, however, already been honoured—as a DBE, or Dame of the British Empire, some seven years earlier.

During World War II Dame Laura Knight served as an official war artist, but at other times ballet, theatre, the circus, gypsies, coastal views, and portraits were among the themes and subjects that attracted her special interest.

Painted in 1931, this sunny group depicts a family with whom Laura and her husband had become good friends through a shared love of music—Esme and Edith de Peyer and their three children, Gervase, Deirdre, and Adrian.

It was Gervase, seated on the horse on the right and just five years old when the work was painted at Middleton-on-Sea, who proved the most talented of this music-loving family.

He made his public debut at 16, playing a Mozart concerto in a concert broadcast on the radio by the BBC, and went on to become a famous clarinetist, conductor, and teacher. A principal at the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) from 1955 to 1972, he also cofounded the Melos Ensemble in London.

Gervase made his debut in America with the LSO and was a founding member and clarinetist of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society in New York from 1969, playing with them for 20 years and eventually settling in New York.

Adrian, Gervase’s younger brother, who is seen here in his mother’s arms, was a celebrated tenor.

Dame Laura herself is seen in an accompanying photograph (not shown), making one of her preliminary “plein-air” studies for what would become the finished oil painting—and just visible in the background is little Deirdre, striking the reins-holding pose she adopts in the finished work.

A Seaside Holiday, said the catalogue notes, “is an intimate and joyous depiction of a talented family, whom Laura Knight greatly cared for.”

In 1970 after Dame Laura’s death, the de Peyer family were offered first right of refusal on her home and purchased it. The portrait thus remained on display in the same studio where Esme, Edith, and her sister, Ethel, had spent so many happy evenings, and it remained in the family until March 14, when in a Bonhams sale of European, Victorian, and British Impressionist pictures, it sold for $114,422.

A Seaside Holiday by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) sold at Bonhams for $114,422.


From Picasso to Van Rysselberghe—Pictures That Made a Big Impression

A pictorial roundup of some of the highlights from early year sales of Impressionist, modern, and Surrealist art has to include Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), who accounted for no fewer than half of the top-ten places in a $209 million sale held by Christie’s on February 27 and topped the Sotheby’s sale of the following day as well.

Right at the top of the Christie’s list was Mousquetaire et nu assis, a 1967 oil on canvas by Picasso that sold for $19,143,500.

Mousquetaire et nu assis by Pablo Picasso, $19.14 million at Christie’s on February 27.

Pablo Picasso’s Femme au béret et la robe quadrillée, $68.96 million at Sotheby’s on February 28.

Claude Monet’s Vétheuil, $10.51 million at Christie’s on February 27.

“Painted with gestural, lavishly and passionately applied brushstrokes,” said Christie’s, it was among the first of the triumphant musketeers that appeared in Picasso’s art in that year.

In the cataloguer’s words, this iconic figure is “accompanied by a sensuous, seated nude. With her shock of dark hair, hieratic posture, and her large, all-seeing almond-shaped eyes, there is no question as to the identity of this woman: she is Jacqueline, the artist’s final, great love, muse and wife, whose presence permeated every female figure in this final chapter of Picasso’s life.”

Le jockey perdu by René Magritte, $2.66 million at Sotheby’s on February 28.

Dans la coulisses by Edgar Degas, $12.53 million at Christie’s on February 27.

Sold for a much higher $68,963,600 on February 28 at Sotheby’s was Femme au béret et la robe quadrillée, a colourful 1937 portrait of one of his earlier lovers and muses, Marie-Thérèse Walter.

Bid to $12,536,400 at Christie’s was Dans les coulisses (In the Wings) by Edgar Degas (1834-1917).

Executed 1882-85, the Degas draws the viewer into the very heart of the hallowed Paris Opéra, beyond the gaze of the audience to the shadowy wings of the stage.

“Exemplifying the artist’s unique abilities as a colourist, and his discerning eye as a careful observer of modern life,” said the cataloguer, “this finely rendered pastel presents with extraordinary precision and subtlety one of the myriad spectacles of the Paris Opéra.

Alfred Sisley’s Moret au coucher du soleil, Octobre, $4.19 million at Christie’s on February 27.

Canal en Flandre by Théo van Rysselberghe, $1.10 million at Sotheby’s on March 1.

“Exemplifying the artist’s mastery of pastel...[it] is executed with a rare combination of pastel on linen,” and it was once part of the collection of Henri Rouart, a close friend and patron who amassed a notable collection that included works by Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Cézanne, as well as Degas.

It clearly had a strong resonance for his family as well, for when it was sold as part of the Rouart estate in 1912, his son Ernest bought it, and Dans les coulissesremained in the family until 1997.

Two Claude Monet (1840-1926) pictures made exactly the same price at Christie’s. Prairie à Giverny of 1885, and Vétheuil, 1879, each sold for $10,518,700, which was quite a bit more expensive than predicted.

A picture being sold by the Triton Collection Foundation, Vétheuildates from a crucial turning point in the artist’s career, said Christie’s, when Monet “embraced the landscape in its purest form, capturing the ephemeral and figural effects of light and atmosphere…to create what many consider to be some of the finest works of his career.”

Among the Surrealists, René Magritte (1898-1967) was the main man, with Le groupe silencieux, a still life assemblage of framed pictures, a cutout figure, and a box with eyes. One of a handful of large and important early works by the artist, it sold for $10,048,300 at Christie’s, but for illustration here I have chosen instead a Magritte that sold for $2,669,850 at Sotheby’s.

Le jockey perdu (The Lost Jockey) of 1947, a gouache from what the cataloguer termed “one of the artist’s most riveting series,” was sold by the family of the American painter, gallery owner, collector, and publisher William N. Copley (1919-1996), a patron and friend of Magritte and other Surrealists. Part of Copley’s extensive collection of Surrealist works was sold by Sotheby Parke Bernet in 1979.

I cannot, of course, pass up the opportunity to feature here a work by one my favourites, Alfred Sisley, and I have picked Moret au coucher du soleil, octobre (Moret at sunset, October) of 1888, which at Christie’s was sold for $4,193,900.

The medieval town of Moret-sur-Loing entranced Sisley, who four years later, in a letter to the critic Adolphe Tavernier, wrote, “in this thickly wooded countryside with its tall poplars, the waters of the river Loing here [are] so beautiful, so translucent, so changeable; at Moret my art has undoubtedly developed the most. I will never really leave this little place that is so picturesque.”

This was, however, rather a quick return to the rooms for this particular Sisley, for at Sotheby’s New York in November 2015, it had sold for $4,954,000.

Another work that held particular appeal for me was an 1894 oil of a tree-lined Canal en Flandre (Canal in Flanders) by Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926). Catalogued as a quintessential example of the artist’s celebrated neo-Impressionist style, “[It] exemplifies the artist’s command over his medium and his skill in depicting iconic Flemish landscapes in the utmost modern and luminous manner,” said the cataloguer.

The painting also boasted an impeccable provenance, having remained in the family of a renowned Belgian botanist, Lucien Hauman, since 1900. It sold at Sotheby’s on March 1 for $1,101,510.


Sleepers Awake in Exeter and Banbury

In February two English provincial salerooms brought joy to consignors and, to a perhaps lesser but still very welcome extent, to those totting up the buyers’ premiums.

Illustrated here is an arrowhead-form stoneware piece, a “Cycladic” form creation by German-born Hans Coper (1920-1981), who fled Germany in the 1930s for England and later, after learning his craft in the studio of another famous potter who had fled Nazi Germany, Austrian-born Lucie Rie, went on to become one of the most admired artist-potters working in England.

Such “Cycladic” works were produced in the mid-1970s at a time when ill health had severely limited his output, and most were produced in only very small numbers.

Today, however, they are also his most desired pieces—as a 20th-century and contemporary art sale held on February 27 by Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood of Exeter, a Devon saleroom, so clearly demonstrated.

Entered for sale by a woman whose husband had acquired it around the time of its creation, this 12" high piece started out with a high estimate of around $8500, one which the consignor reportedly considered “a little ambitious.”

There was plenty of interest in the lot up to about $80,000, but then, according to an Antiques Trade Gazette report by my colleague Roland Arkell, competition between a dealer in the room and an Internet bidder saw the latter secure it at $514,420—a record for any piece of British studio pottery.

In that same issue of the U.K. weekly, Laura Chesters reported on another sleeper. Known to the consignors as Christ the Redeemer but offered for sale as a “19th century, Continental School” work depicting St. John the Evangelist was a picture valued at $700 or thereabouts.

It was offered by the Oxfordshire saleroom Holloway’s of Banbury on the same day. Like the owner of the Hans Coper piece, their consignors, an Oxfordshire family, were in for a shock, and where the auctioneers are concerned, there must have been some embarrassment as well as delight when it went on to sell for $735,970!

Some bidders obviously had ideas as to whose work it might really be, and there will be those already wondering what price tag it might bear when it next comes on the market.

Hans Coper’s “Cycladic” arrowhead sold for $514,420 at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood on February 27.

The painting depicting St. John the Evangelist sold for $735,970 at Holloway’s on February 27.


Originally published in the May 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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