Timing is another aspect. If an auction appearance coincides with an anniversary it can lead to extra publicity for example, and consignments held for years even can be teased out from vendors to go on sale when demand may be at its peak.
For an item coming up at auction in west London on November 8 the timing factor could be a winner. Charles Miller’s maritime and scientific sale held at 25 Blythe Road in West Kensington offers a small, unrecorded silk pencil portrait of Admiral Lord Nelson by Albin Burt (1783-1842).
Consigned from a UK private collection, the 1¾in (4.5cm) drawing dates to c.1802 and is thought to have been done from life on a napkin or handkerchief. It is estimated at £8000-12,000.
The artist was closely connected to Nelson. His brother, Henry Frederick Burt, was secretary to the admiral, his mother was a close friend of Nelson’s mistress Emma Hamilton and Burt himself was a friend of Sir William Hamilton, her husband.
And there lies the fortunate timing: a few days before the sale National Maritime Museum, also in London, opens its exhibition Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity (November 3 to April 17, 2017).
The museum notes: “From humble origins, Emma Hamilton rose to national and international fame as a model, performer and interpreter of neo-classical fashion. Within the public mind, however, she typically continues to occupy a passive and supporting role, and is often remembered simply as the mistress of Britain’s greatest naval hero.
“This landmark exhibition recovers Emma from myth and misrepresentation, and reveals her to be an active and influential historical actor in her own right: one of the greatest female lives of her era.”
From rags to riches and back again
Born into poverty in 1765, Emma’s talent and beauty brought her fame while still in her teens as muse to the great portrait artist George Romney.
In her twenties she achieved still greater artistic prominence in Naples, the epicentre of the fashionable Grand Tour. Here, as the confidante of Queen Maria Carolina, she also came to wield considerable political power. Emma embarked on a passionate affair with Nelson, but risked her security and social status in the process. Her fortunes never recovered from the tragedy of his death at Trafalgar and – following a period in debtor’s prison – she died in self-imposed exile in Calais in 1815.
The museum adds: “Emma’s story will be told through over 200 objects from public and private lenders around a core from the museum’s own collections. Emma’s compelling story will be explored through exceptional fine art; antiquities that inspired Emma’s famous ‘attitudes’; costumes that show her impact on contemporary fashions; prints and caricatures that carried her image to a mass audience; her personal letters and those of Nelson and William Hamilton; and finally the uniform coat that Nelson wore at Trafalgar, retained by Emma until destitution forced her to part with it.”
Will this high-profile exhibition lead to extra interest in the drawing for sale on November 8? Only time will tell - but it is certainly good timing.