“AS extreme as always with focused bidding on the key lots,” was Victorian specialist Grant Ford’s frank description of the selective response to Sotheby’s (20/12% buyer’s premium) mid-season British Sale at Bond Street.

Of the 280 lots on offer, 159 (57 per cent) found buyers to the tune of a premium-inclusive £196,000 with the Victorian pictures section experiencing the patchiest response, despite the recent euphoria generated by Christie’s Forbes Collection sale.

That said, the Victorian section also included this exceptional
quality Arthur Hacker (1858-1919) canvas, Imprisoned Spring, shown right, which attracted four enthusiastic bidders up to the leading price in the section of £80,000, bid by a private UK collector.

Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1911, the year Hacker was
elected a member of the RA, the subject of a servant girl gazing
wistfully through a sunlit window is closely associated with similar
subjects executed by George Clausen around the same time.

Both artists had trained in Paris, where they had absorbed the
influence of French Realist painting. Measuring 3ft by 2ft 41/2in (92 x 71.5cm), this privately entered
canvas was in untouched condition with old labels on the back and had been estimated at £40,000-60,000.

An even more sensational
performance against estimate was notched up at Sotheby’s by this unsigned 10 by 8in (25 x 20cm)
pencil drawing, below right, of HMS Victory in the Medway by John Constable (1776-1837),
valued at £15,000-20,000.

Although unsigned, the drawing was one of three of the same subject which are recorded in a letter Constable wrote to his friend John Dunthorne Senior, dated 23rd May, 1803. He mentioned making three sketches of the Victory, all of which were recently discovered by Sotheby’s specialist Anthony Weld-Forester on a routine valuation in Scotland.

Had the drawing been of a less famous ship by a less famous artist, then this diminutive sketch would presumably have made an equally diminutive price but on the day
collectors of Constable and
collectors of Naval history clashed,
as it fetched an extraordinary bid of £188,000, a record for a work by the artist on paper. The two similarly estimated companion drawings fetched £34,000 and £80,000.