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Art market

THE health of the lower reaches of the equestrian art market was given a good examination when a cache of pictures turned up at Hansons (17.5% buyer’s premium) in Derbyshire.

The 20 or so works, which included canvases by quality equestrian artists such as John E Ferneley and Harry Hall, had been in a storage container on the Scottish Borders since the early 1990s.

A ‘prominent’ Hong Kong lawyer had assembled them in the 1980s (also see Auction Reports, page 18), buying from dealers and at auctions held by Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London and New York.

Today, fewer collectors and greater numbers of home furnishers have brought an element of volatility to the equestrian market that did not exist back in the ’80s. “He was buying at a time when equestrian art and antiques were at their height,” said associate director and pictures specialist Adrian Rathbone.

This discrepancy in prices was exemplified by the inclusion of a James Pollard oil that Rathbone found out had been bought at Christie’s New York in 1985 for £21,000. At Hansons on December 19, it went on to sell within its guide, but for the more modest sum of £4200.

Pricing the collection appropriately for today’s softer market was therefore key: “We had full rein on estimates and we had to be realistic – we are not in the 1980s any more.”

With attractive guides and pictures in ‘ready to hang’ condition, the collection was well received with nearly every lot getting away to a healthy mix of private and trade buyers.

On the hunt

Top billing went to an imposing study of a bay hunter by renowned British equine painter John E Ferneley (1781-1860).

Signed and inscribed Melton Mowbray – the heart of the hunting world at the time and the place where the artist lived and worked – the 2ft 4in x 3ft 4in (72 x 95cm) oil on canvas sold to a UK private buyer within estimate at £6000.

Ferneley’s auction record stands at £600,000 for his large and ambitious painting Silver firs at Osberton, which he painted for the Foljambe family and was sold at Christie’s London in May 2007.

Another popular artist of his day was the prolific racehorse portraitist Harry Hall (1814-82). The pick of several works included in the sale was a pair of racehorse portraits at Newmarket Heath.

The more expensive of the two was a slightly larger 23in x 2ft 7in (60 x 79cm) oil on canvas of a dark brown racehorse with jockey and the figure of the owner in a top hat and tails. It was bid to £4700, more than double the bottom estimate, where it was hammered down to a UK private buyer.

The other portrait attracted similar demand and was bid to £4000 against a £1500-2500 estimate by a different UK private buyer. “These two were probably the best Halls that have been on the market in recent years and the prices achieved were respectable for the current market,” said Rathbone.

Among the portraits of named horses was a depiction of Sheen, a British thoroughbred winning racehorse owned by Prince Dimitry Soltykoff. The 2ft 3in x 2ft 10in (69 x 88cm) oil was painted by Adrian Jones (1845-1938), better known for sculptures such as the The Peace Quadriga at Hyde Park Corner.

Depicting jockey F Wenn, it was painted in 1891, a year after the horse won the flat handicap horserace Cesarewitch at Newmarket. It sold to a UK trade buyer at £4100 against a £1000-1500 guide.