Old Masters week in London

Christie’s sales room, ‘Captain John Bullock’ portrait by Gainsborough (centre) 
est. £3,500,000- £5,000,000.  This beautiful painting remained unsold. 

This week, London is heaving with a host of finely attired art collectors and dealers from all over the world.  July 1-8 is Old Masters Week where 23 commercial art galleries in Mayfair and St James’ are showing off their wares in collaboration with Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonham’s where one has a great and brief opportunity to view some of the most spectacular old master paintings and drawings before they are dispersed at auction.

Christie’s was bustling with excitement and set a record with sales of the ‘Old Masters and British Paintings’ reaching almost £50,000,000.

A highlight at Christie’s was George Stubbs’ ‘Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath’, at a very long 40 x 76 inches – est. £20-30 million it sold for 22.4 million (including commission) which places Stubbs amongst the most valuable Old Master paintings in auction history.  [The most expensive Old Master painting at auction remains ‘The Massacre of the Innocents’ by Peter Paul Rubens which fetched 49.5 million pounds at Sotheby’s in 2002.]

George Stubbs, ‘Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath’

The painting was sold by the Trustees of the collection of the late Lord Woolavington, a whiskey magnate who bought it in 1951 for £12,600.  Christie’s state the the picture was sold due to the high cost of insurance which is disproportionate to the value of the other works in the collection housed at Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire which is occupied by Woolavington’s descendant, Captain Macdonald-Buchanan.  It is not known if the painting will stay in Britain, the buyer wishes to remain anonymous.

Detail of the Stubbs painting featuring Gimcrack winning a race (R) and his jockey (L).
Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766), portrait of Marguerite-Francoise-Bernard de Reims. 
Est. £350,000-450,000.   Unsold
George Romney (1743-1802), portrait of Francis Lind with flute, est. £100,000-£150,000. Unsold.
Then to Bonham’s
Giacomo Ceruti, called il Pitochetto (active Lombardy, 1724-1757) detail of Portrait of a lady, Est, £50,000 – 70,000.
Old Master taken off the wall for closer inspection.

And Sotheby’s

Head Porter with table, Sotheby’s.
Old master being inspected with glasses / ultraviolet light torch, Sotheby’s.

After the auction houses closed their doors to prepare for the evening sales the dealerships of St James’s and Mayfair welcomed art lovers with canapes and champagne for further perusal of artistic offerings as part of Old Masters Week.

Art lovers take a break in the window of Robert Bowman Gallery, Duke Street.
Jean-Luc Baroni, Mason’s Yard.
Arty canapes at Baroni.
Stanley at the door of Åmell’s Gallery, Ryder Street.
The Weiss Gallery on Jermyn Street, specialising in Tudor, Stuart and North European portraiture had a stunning selection of paintings immaculately displayed and lit.
Detail of painting by Jan Claesz (1570-1636), Weiss Gallery.
Portrait of John Wyndham Dalling (1769-1786) by  Philip Reinagle, Weiss Gallery.
Provenance: by descent through the Wyndham Dalling and Meade families of  Earsham Hall, Bungay, Suffolk.
This portrait was commissioned as an aspirational hope for the sitter’s (aged no more than 6 or 7) future military career.  Sadly the boy did not live to fulfil his father’s dreams as in 1786 he died aged 17 of fever in India.  This picture sold at Bonhams for £50,400 including 20% buyer’s premium.  The ticket on the picture at the Weiss Gallery is £150,000.

Last stop on the tour was the Colnaghi gallery on Old Bond Street.  An impressive viewing space indeed.

Colnagi Gallery.
Let’s hope that some of these stunning paintings will remain in Britain.  There is increasing concern that many of these Old Masters being sold are being taken abroad as British titled families offload their treasures to raise funds for repairs to their estates or to meet demands from Revenue and Customs.  Last year Earl Spencer sold £21m worth of art from Althorpe House and in 2010 the Duke of Devonshire raised £6.5m (inc. commission) from his ‘attic sale’ of 20,000 items at Chatsworth House.  It is thought that much of this treasure is going to the Middle East and Asia.  


Overheard in one of the galleries was a middle eastern chap whose criteria was for paintings that were large and old with no nudity. “Don’t show me anything small” he said. 



On the way home some street art by Ralph Lauren who were changing their window display.  Excuse the nudity.

Fiona Campbell with Ralph Lauren mannequins, wearing Victoria Grant hat.
Someone commented that the hat would be worthy of an Old Master.
Photograph by Rodolph de Salis.
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