The venerable but beleaguered London art and antiques dealership consigned 173 lots of pictures, furniture and decorative arts to Dreweatts (24% buyer’s premium) in Donnington Priory.
For the last few years, Mallett has been winding down its stock through Dreweatts – this was the third such sale. The dealership, which has been owned by the Stanley Gibbons Group since 2014, has struggled to turn a profit since the downturn of 2008.
James Harvey, Dreweatts’ head of traditional art and a former Mallett employee, described the sale as “the closing of a chapter”, but remained hopeful the brand would continue into the future.
Furniture provided the lion’s share of the total but the 22-lot picture section contributed £124,000 to proceedings, with just three unsold lots and interest coming from both private and trade buyers.
The lots were typical Mallett stock – Grand Tour furnishing paintings in ‘gallery condition’ – but were offered with estimates well below retail values.
Donnington Priory’s period interiors were well suited to showing off many of the paintings, and this seemed to work particularly well for Mallett’s portraits.
Among the keenest bidding of the day was for a 3ft 4in x 4ft 2in (1.01 x 1.27m) swagger portrait of a sumptuously attired 18th century lawyer, in a knee-length red coat and silk silver waistcoat with gold brocading.
Painted by the English portrait artist Thomas Hudson (1701-79) in a wide landscape (rather than portrait) format, it tickled the taste buds of several bidders and was pursued well beyond its inviting £700-1000 guide to £7000.
Attracting similar interest was a much smaller portrait by the popular painter Arthur Devis (1712-87), which had been part of Mallett’s stock for over a decade.
The 18 x 11in (46 x 28cm) oil on canvas depicts Lord Robert Kerr, and was originally part of a pair that featured his brother. Painted in 1741, it was secured by a phone buyer at £9000 against a £2000-3000 estimate.
The third portrait of note was a 4ft 2in x 3ft 4in (1.27 x 1.01m) oil on canvas depicting two young boys, wearing matching green and red outfits.
Charles and Henry Blair were the children of Charles Blair, a wealthy country gentleman in Dorset who made his money as an absentee landlord of plantations in Jamaica (he was also the great-grandfather of George Orwell/Eric Blair).
The portrait was painted in 1769 by the successful provincial painter, Thomas Beach (1738-1806). It sold on the top estimate at £12,000.
Watercolours by one of the earliest female zoological artists, Sarah Stone (1760-1844), have always held an interest for collectors.
The Mallett sale featured a decorative 17 x 13in (44 x 33cm) view of four parrots perched on a branch. Signed using her married name of Smith, it is thought to date from c.1789-90, the time of her marriage to John Langdale Smith.
Its popular subject matter, good size and well-preserved colours helped propel it well above the £1500-2000 guide to £14,000, where it was knocked down to a buyer on the phone.
The picture section suffered a few casualties. The biggest was a marine painting depicting two 32-gun frigates by John Cleveley the Elder (1712-77). Mallett had consigned it to Dreweatts in 2015, but it failed to find a buyer guided at £70,000- 100,000. With a revised estimate of £30,000-50,000, it still failed to draw interest.
Instead, the top-seller was a pair of classical landscapes by the French painter Jean-Henry d’Arles (1734-84). Painted in 1768, these bright Grand Tour oils in the style of Joseph Vernet (1714-89) drew competition in the room and on the phones before they were knocked down on top estimate at £20,000.