AT a time when several categories of London picture sales are struggling to achieve selling rates of 50 or 60 per cent, marine pictures appear to be one area with a rich enough client base to ride the current global financial storms.
Bonhams’ (17.5/10% buyer’s premium) January 22 Marine Sale at Bond Street found buyers for 74 of its 100 lots, generating a premium- inclusive total of £587,230. This was only £40,000 down on the total achieved at the equivalent sale last year and the selling rate was also only marginally lower. As ever, private bidding dominated. Clearly if you are rich enough to own a yacht, you are rich enough to avoid the worst effects of the current equity crisis. An unusually large Charles Edward Dixon (1872-1934) canvas, Off Billingsgate, 3ft 7in by 6ft 31/4in (1.09 x 1.91m) and showing tugs and merchant ships spewing smoke into the Pool of London air, was one highlight at £42,000 against an estimate of £20,000-30,000.
Top price, however, went to a set of six 141/2 by 201/2in (37 x 52cm) canvases – one shown right – by Dominic Serres Senior (1719-1793) of the British capture of Belle Isle off the Brittany coast in 1761. The French garrison of this strategically important island put up stiff resistance against the 7000-strong invasion force and the island remained in British hands only until 1763, when the Seven Years War came to an end with the Peace of Paris.
The set, bought by its private vendor from the London dealers Williams and Son during the 1980s, was not in the most commercial condition, having been relined and restored.
Sets of six pictures can be difficult to sell, and an 18th century amphibious invasion of a small French island was also not the most commercial subject.
It was therefore hardly a surprise when it sold for a single lower-estimate bid of £120,000 from a dealer on behalf of a private collector.