The most stunning price of London’s summer auction season came at Christie’s last week when the competition that emerged on ‘Love among the Ruins’ by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-98) was one of the strongest ever seen for a Victorian picture.
Estimated at £3m-£5m, it drew no fewer than six bidders, five of whom bid over the top estimate. Four bidders were still in contention as the price went over £8m, with at least one interested party on the phone thought to be from the US.
It eventually came down to an intense battle between two bidders in the room, both London dealers acting for private clients. The lot was finally knocked down at £13.2m to Guy Morrison. The underbidder was Julian Hartnoll who told ATG that he had expected the work to make at least £10m before the sale.
In the past Mr Hartnoll has bid for Isabel Goldsmith, daughter of the late Sir James Goldsmith, while there was speculation Mr Morrison was buying for collector and musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, he told ATG: "I was not necessarily bidding for the person people might think."
The price fetched for Love among the Ruins was not only a major record for Burne-Jones but also a record sum for any British work on paper.
The picture itself was one of the artist's intensely romantic compositions and was deemed the most important work by the artist to have appeared at auction for at least a generation.
Painted in watercolour, bodycolour and gum arabic on paper, it had not been seen in public in half a century.
It last sold at auction at Sotheby's in 1958, for 480 guineas to London dealers Agnew's and had then entered a private collection in Hampshire.
The sum helped Christie's July 11 sale of Victorian and British Impressionist art to £19.3m, the highest for an auction in this category.