ATG’s front page with news of the National Portrait Gallery’s request for the trade’s help in expanding its collection of vernacular portraits ‘owned by ordinary people’.

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Moving online

If the trade – both auction houses and dealers – were looking for proof that online channels are an increasing source of new blood then The Art Market 2018 provided it.

The annual Art Basel and UBS Global report found online sales now represent 8% of the total art market, with sales up 10% year-on-year to $5.4bn and 72% over the last five years. Dealers reported that 45% of their online buyers were new to their businesses, while auction houses reported more than 40% of those buying online were new faces.

Auction aggregators were one of the “biggest successes in the online market in 2017”, the report said.

In the UK, reported that provincial auction houses accounted for more than a quarter of the UK auction market last year.

The combined sales of more than 500 auctioneers rose from £763m hammer in 2015 to £821m in 2017 at a compound annual growth rate of 4%.

In that time, sales conducted on achieved a 9% compound annual growth in hammer value.

Exporting trouble

A long-running legal case regarding the export of an important Old Master painting from Portugal was finally settled after authorities ended an attempt to have the work repatriated.

The state had retrospectively attempted to block the export of a 15th century oil by Carlo Crivelli sold to a UK dealer in 2012. It was just one of group of disputes surrounding the exports of paintings from Europe.

The saga of a painting attributed to Giotto – the subject of a lengthy history of litigation in Italy since its shipment to Geneva in the late 1990s – continues. Later in the year Robilant + Voena would strongly criticise Italy’s decision to rescind an export licence previously granted for a portrait Camillo Borghese by François-Pascal-Simon Gérard, which the London and Milan-based dealership had sold to The Frick Collection in New York.

“This risks making a mockery of the entire decision-making process,” said the dealers.

Two types of VIP

Robilant + Voena was among the dealers at TEFAF Maastricht where a new opening day policy was trialled. The fair now has two, rather than one VIP preview days, with the first day open only to exhibitors’ choice of top clients. Sorting customers into ‘day one’ or ‘day two’ clients may have been uncomfortable but the overall effect on business was deemed positive.

Elsewhere, the National Portrait Gallery sought the help of the trade to grow its collection. It announced it had funding in place for vernacular portraits ‘owned by ordinary people’ and called on the trade to help it acquire works for a new exhibition centred on identity before the era of painted portraiture. The NPG had been awarded £40,000 of funding for the project.

Dibnah dispersal

Crowds descended on Bolton on March 17 to see the sell-out auction of the property of steeplejack and TV star Fred Dibnah. The 440-lot auction was held at the Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre by Adam Partridge and Ashley Waller auctioneers. A painted wood trade sign reading F Dibnah & Sons Bolton sold at £1700 (plus 20% buyer’s premium).

Quote of the month

It was like selling used to be 15 years ago

Cheffins’ Luke MacDonald on the March 7-8 auction at the Cambridge saleroom that included the sale of a canine portrait by il Guercino

Key sales


Bottle-form vase by John Ward – £8800 at Adam Partridge.

It was a big year for the stonewares of John Ward (b.1938). This 10in (25.5cm) tall bottle-form vase with a mottled green geometric pattern on off-white ground sold at £8800 (plus 15% buyer’s premium) at Adam Partridge on March 16 in Macclesfield.


John Constable (1776-1837) oil sketch – £305,000 at Roseberys.

This John Constable (1776-1837) oil sketch had come by descent from the family of the art collector and former US ambassador to the UK, John Hay Whitney (1904-82).

The Hampstead scene, with the descriptive title View towards the back of a terrace of houses with elder tree, was knocked down to a room bidder at £305,000 (plus 23% buyer’s premium), in the March 21 auction at Roseberys.


‘Hellelil and Hildebrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs’ by Frederic William Burton (1816-1900) – €24,000 (£21,500) at Fonsie Mealy.

Hellelil and Hildebrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs was painted in 1864 by Irish artist and Pre-Raphaelite follower Frederic William Burton (1816-1900).

The finished watercolour hangs in the National Gallery, but this smaller preparatory work sold to a private Irish buyer on the phone at €24,000/£21,500 (plus 20/25% buyer’s premium) at Fonsie Mealy on March 7 in Co Kilkenny.


Canine portrait by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as il Guercino (1591-1666) – £570,000 at Cheffins.

This previously unrecorded canine portrait by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as il Guercino (1591-1666), surpassed its £80,000-120,000 estimate to sell for £570,000 (plus 22.5% buyer’s premium) on March 8 at Cheffins.

Bought by the vendor’s great-grandfather in Rome in 1850, the 22in x 2ft 6in (56 x 76cm) oil on canvas is only the second known portrait of a dog by the Bolognese painter.


Robert Morden’s ‘A Brief Description of England and Wales’, 1796 edition – £34,000 at Dominic Winter.

The surprise lot in a March 7 sale at Dominic Winter was a rare but incomplete 1796 edition of mapmaker Robert Morden’s A Brief Description of England and Wales. A little pocket guide for travellers, schoolchildren and others, it contained 31 of 52 ‘playing card’ county maps, most of which were printed in strips and bound in concertina style. Estimated at £3000-5000, it was contested by two collectors to £34,000 (plus 20% buyer’s premium).