UNLIKE the market for oil paintings, where traditional images appear to be going through something of a mini-revival, print auctions show signs of being a sector where the critical mass of demand has shifted permanently towards Modern and Contemporary.
“There are far fewer people who want an 18th century mezzotint in a period frame,” says Bonhams’ print specialist Robert Kennan. “These people are now buying Warhol and William Scott.”
This view certainly seemed to be borne out by results at Bonhams (19.5/10% buyer’s premium) March 29 prints sale at New Bond Street where all of the 10 most expensive lots were 20th century prints, led by the £11,000 for the set of four 1968 Bridget Riley (b.1931) silkscreens, Nineteen Greys.
However, there was an interesting common thread running through the few pre-20th century lots that attracted enthusiastic bidding. A lot containing five c.1798 engravings by J. Fittler after P.J. Loutherbourg of the Battle of the Nile and four other Napoleonic naval engagements, fetched a quadruple-estimate £2000. Further multiple-estimate sums of £2000 and £1300 were bid for mixed lots of marine engravings, including Cape Trafalgar.
Given that 2005 will be the second centenary of the death of Viscount Horatio Nelson, these prices may well reflect an early taste of forthcoming Nelsonmania.