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The marine market’s most recent crest of a wave took place in New York at Christie’s East on February 13, 1997 when a remarkable total of $1.8m (£1.1m) was achieved with record prices of $210,000 (£130,435) for Montague Dawson’s Clearing Skies – The Glory of the Seas and $95,000 (£59,005) for John Wilson Carmichael’s Awaiting the Tide, Shipping on the Tyne.

Since then, Christie’s East has gone West and so have most of the market-fresh marine paintings. High quality paintings that are new to the auction rooms are now in short supply and demand, as in most other sectors of the market, has become more selective.

This was clearly demonstrated at Christie’s (17.5/10% buyer’s premium) February 26 Maritime sale in New York where, according to expert-in-charge Marie Kotsonis, “There was an adjustment in the market.”

For reasons Ms Kotsonis was unprepared to divulge, the cover-featured Robert Salmon (1775-c.1845) oil of a squadron of ships on the Mersey ($120,000-180,000) was withdrawn before the sale, leaving good-to-middling, but hardly
outstanding Montague Dawson (1895-1973) oils to be the major contributor to the final total of $870,500 (£572,695), often at below-estimate prices.

Overall 34 per cent of the lots failed to sell and most of these were in the picture section. A relatively modest top price of $55,000 (£36,185) was bid by a US dealer on behalf of a collector for the marine painting, above right, a late period Montague Dawson oil, Sunset Gold, ‘The Huguenot’. Significantly, given that this wax-lined and slightly discoloured 2ft by 3ft 8in (61cm x 1.12m) canvas was fresh to the market from a private collection, the final hammer price was $5000 below the pre-sale estimate of $60,000-80,000.

This patchy response to Christie’s mixed-owner Maritime sale did, however, contrast with the Bolton Massachusetts auctioneer Skinner’s (17.5/10% buyer’s premium) virtual sell-out
dispersal on February 24 of marine paintings from the collection of the late Edward Thomas (1909-2000).

Bidders’ awareness that this local Massachusetts businessman had amassed his collection of Americana and marine paintings decades earlier clearly intensified demand and a number of handsome prices were achieved for 19th century American ship portraits, led by the $80,000 (£52,630) paid for this unsigned 19in by 2ft 53/4in (48 x 75cm) canvas below right, attributed to William Bradford (1823-1892) of the New Bedford whale ship Gay Head, estimated at $35,000-45,000.
Exchange rate: £1 = $1.52