1. Qing woodblock print – £25,000
This rare Qing woodblock print, Magnolia and Bees by Ding Yingzong, was offered for sale at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter on January 17. Estimated at just £60-80, it took a mighty £25,000.
The artist or workshop named Ding Yingzong worked in Suzhou, Jiangsu province in the second quarter of the 18th century. At the time, new types of woodblock print appealing to urban Chinese audiences were being created.
Ding Yingzong’s work recalls contemporary paintings. Hand-coloured in wash, the naturalism of the magnolia blossoms is achieved by subtle colour gradations, the limited use of outlines and embossing. The inscribed couplet compares their colour to glowing jade.
A copy of this print in the British Museum collection is dated to c.1735-50. It was bequeathed by celebrated Irish physician, naturalist and collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753).
Woodblock prints from this period are rare on the market outside mainland China. However a price parallel can be drawn between this work and four ink and colour on paper prints sold together for £85,000 as part of the Fine Asian & Islamic Works of Art sale at Lyon & Turnbull in on November 4. They were by the artist or workshop named Ding Liangxian, who was also working in Suzhou in the period c.1735-50.
The print at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood sold to a buyer on the-saleroom.com.
2. Dessert spoon from Lord Nelson’s service – £3000
This otherwise mundane late 18th century fiddle pattern silver dessert spoon is from Lord Nelson’s first personal service.
Dated 1796 and made by London silversmiths William Eley and William Fearn, it is engraved with Nelson’s ‘San Josef’ crest that depicts the stern of the Spanish warship captured at Cape St Vincent on February 14, 1797.
The crest was granted in March 1797 when Nelson was given the Order of the Bath. However, it was one he used for just two years. Acquiring more titles and decorations after the French fleet was smashed at the battle of the Nile on August 2, 1798, later additions to his canteen (also made by Eley and Fearn) carried the Ottoman Chelengk crest alongside the San Josef device.
It is the knowledge that these pieces were in regular use by Nelson and his circle that gives them such resonance with collectors. This example, estimated to bring £100-150 at Lawrences of Crewkerne on January 17, was bought by a bidder using thesaleroom.com at £3000.
3. Joseph Boehm equestrian bronze – £10,000
This Victorian bronze of an equestrienne is cast from a model by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890). Although somewhat overlooked by modern scholarship, he was among the most illustrious and most active British sculptors of his generation.
Queen Victoria, in particular, highly approved of his work and he was to receive over 40 royal commissions and countless more from aristocratic and distinguished patrons throughout the 1870s and 1880s. Bronzes of thoroughbred horses were his forte.
Boehm had only recently settled in London from Austria when he produced this 20in (49cm) high model in 1865. The identity of the elegant young horsewoman remains unknown although it fits the description of a work titled Mrs Henry Webster; Equestrian Portrait in Bronze that was shown at The Royal Academy in 1866.
In the absence of other surviving examples, it may be the very same cast. It came for sale at Nottingham firm Mellors & Kirk on January 17 as part of the collection of CW Briggs (1906-71). More than 400 eclectic lots from this family collection were offered.
A fine cast in fine original condition with an even rich patina, it was guided at £3000-5000 but took £10,000.
4. Mephistopheles sculpture – £4800
The highlight of the sale held by Barry Hawkins in Downham Market, Norfolk on January 18 was this version of the Jean-Jacques Feuchere (1807-1852) sculpture Mephistopheles or Satan.
Titled Satan when first exhibited in plaster at the Salon of 1834 and cast in bronze the following year, it proved an influential work for its Romantic portrayal of Mephistopheles as a melancholic rather than a monstrous creature. One commentator wrote: ‘Among all the angels and demons, there is one figure that incontestably merits particular attention because of the original character it has been imprinted with, because of the novelty of its composition and the conscientious craftsmanship with which it is rendered, it is the Satan of M Feuchère, a personification, with plenty of verve and ardour, of the evil genius at odds with being powerless.’
The subject’s pose is inspired by the famous engraving of Melancholy by Dürer (Feuchere is known to have owned a copy) and in turn is thought to have influenced Rodin’s Thinker. A number of reductions were cast in bronze measuring 13.5in (34cm) and 10.5in (21cm) as here.
Signed and dated Feuchere 1833, it was estimated at £800-1200 but sold at £4800.
5. Stereoscopic daguerreotype – £1600
This stereoscopic daguerreotype banner is one of many ‘cabinet of curiosity’ items assembled by a London dealer in mechanical and scientific antiques sold by Chiswick Auctions on January 18.
Collected in the 1980s and 90s, most have been in storage for 20 years although have been admired via a website devoted to the collection. The collector’s partner recalls he “always regretted he wasn’t born during the reign of Queen Victoria”.
The Queen herself is the subject of an early photograph taken on 20 April 1855. Taken by official photographers Negretti & Zambra, it shows Victoria and Prince Albert escorting Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie around the Crystal Palace. The iron and glass venue, the centrepiece of the Great Exhibition held in London’s Hyde Park in 1851, had recently been sold, dismantled and rebuilt at a new site in the district of Sydenham in south-east London.
Paintings of the scene exist but this appears to be the only known photograph. It was guided at £1500-£2500 and took £1600.