There were several highlights at Bonhams’ (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) latest portrait miniatures sale in Knightsbridge on June 28.
Leading the way was a unique enamel miniature by Henry Bone (1755-1834) of the Ladies Rushout, the three daughters of John Rushout, Baron Northwick of Northwick Park. Renowned for their beauty and charm, the sisters were painted together on numerous occasions during their lifetimes, with copies still being produced even after their deaths.
Bonhams' example had derived from Andrew Plimer's famous earlier ivory miniature of the trio in the guise of The Three Graces which was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London in 1788.
Bonhams specialist Jennifer Tonkin said: "The miniature was a faithful copy of Plimer's original; crisp and flawless with a fantastic provenance."
Formerly in the collection of Captain E.G. Spencer-Churchill, the 4¾in (11cm) miniature last appeared on the market at Christie's in 1965. Estimated at £10,000-15,000, it was secured by a major Henry Bone collector in the room for £55,000. This was the second significant sum for a miniature by the artist at auction in less than a year; last November Christie's sold a large-scale miniature of Henry VIII, derived from Hans Holbein the Younger's famous mural at Whitehall Palace for £260,000, an auction record for the artist (see ATG No 2022).
Yet, despite the current enthusiasm for his works, Bonhams were unable to shift an enamel miniature of the artist's son, Peter Joseph Bone, estimated in the sale at £15,000-25,000. Emulating Joshua Reynolds' Boy Reading, the piece failed to excite collectors despite its academic appeal with the miniature's dark shading a decisive factor.
Meanwhile, a painted porcelain miniature of Queen Victoria standing in the royal box at the Drury Lane Theatre by Sophie Liénard (active 1842-45), attracted a number of bids. The 7in (17cm) completely market-fresh, unique piece was derived from a portrait by Edmund Thomas Parris of the Queen's first state visit to this theatre in November 1837. Against an inviting £4000-6000 estimate, it sold in the room to the US trade for £22,000.
There was an auction record for Swedish artist Christian Richter (1678-1732), whose portrait miniature of Oliver Cromwell sold to an agent acting on behalf of a private client for £15,000 against an £8000-12,000 estimate.
Based on Samuel Cooper's famous portrait, the 4in (10cm) work is one of five known copies all signed by Richter and dated 1708.
The 161-lot sale was 72% sold by lot and 85% by value, totalling £250,805, with six first-time buyers to Bonhams. These results continue to reflect a steady market where the private buyer is the dominant force spending mostly in the top and middle range of the market.