A wartime lithograph by C.R.W. Nevinson (1889-1946) promoting Britain’s aerial prowess made a record price for a print by the artist at Sotheby’s latest sale in this category.
Selling for £95,000 at their Old Master, Modern and Contemporary prints sale on March 29, Banking at 4000 Feet, a lithograph from the 1917 series Building Aircraft, had an estimate of £20,000-30,000 - a pitch which may have reflected the £24,000 seen the last time one sold at auction, at Christie's South Kensington in April 2007.
Although the auctioneers were clearly expecting this example to make more - Nevinson prices have maintained their upward curve over the last five years - Sotheby's specialist Séverine Nackers admitted that even she was a little surprised at the final £95,000.
This beat the previous auction high of £65,000 seen for Nevinson's drypoint French Troops Resting that sold at Sotheby's sale of the Attenborough collection in November 2009. While prints by the artist have since changed hands privately for greater amounts, the major jump here was down to serious demand from two determined private buyers, one from the UK and other from the US.
It was eventually knocked down to the American collector after a prolonged bidding battle.
One reason that such a price was not anticipated was the fact that this impression came from an edition of 200 which was comparatively large for Nevinson wartime prints (most were produced in editions of around 25).
It was actually one of six lithographs from a series commissioned and published by the Ministry of Information to celebrate Britain's aerial advancement.
The condition of the 16 x 12¾in (40 x 32cm) lithograph was good but not perfect - there was some marginal creasing and surface dirt as well as the occasional stray foxmark.
The other high value Nevinson at the sale made a more expected price. The Road from Arras to Bapaume lithograph has appeared a number of times at auction in the last few years and this 18½ x 15¼in (47 x 39cm) impression from 1918 took £55,000 against a £30,000-50,000 estimate, selling to a different collector.
The price fetched was identical to another example sold in the same rooms in March 2010.
The Nevinson prints market will now turn its attention to Bonhams' prints sale on April 17 where a copy of Bomber from 1918 is being offered with a £20,000-30,000 estimate. The auctioneers have stated that the only other known copy is in the British Museum, so they will no doubt be hoping for the same sort of fireworks seen for Banking at 4000 Feet.
The buyer's premium was 25/20/12%.