Part of an 80-lot sale of Lord Horatio Nelson-related memorabilia, it is only the most recent highlight from the parade of sales offering pieces from that era.
Last year’s examples include the gold leaf cut from Napoleon’s laurel crown, which was hammered down for €500,000 (£443,193) at Osenat in France in November, and a sword cane from the Battle of Waterloo that made £6500 at Thomas Del Mar last June.
“Anything to do with the Napoleonic Wars always hits the headlines. We go nuts for it,” says Cotswolds dealer Simon Shore. And with his new business, 1793, he plans to take advantage of this enduring public passion.
Named for the year Britain started fighting the French Revolutionary forces, 1793 also serves as a rough chronological starting point for the stock Shore offers: the drawings, paintings and sculpture that defined the era, particularly in Britain and France. The endpoint is roughly 1815 and the Battle of Waterloo.
In his role as an art agent and adviser, he specialises in Impressionist and 20th century British artworks, and will continue to do so alongside the new venture. But last summer he decided to start a new enterprise that would satisfy a long-held passion and occupy time between jobs.
Shore had his first outing under his new banner in early January at ADFL’s Mayfair Antiques & Fine Art Fair. With several sales already under his belt, he’s confident about his chances. Hardly anyone else holds the era as a specific focus and “there’s a global market for it. The wars took place in India, south and north Africa, the Americas, all over Europe and Russia,” he says.
“In all those places there are collectors so it has a broad global appeal.” Furthermore, he has a natural – if not necessarily easy – audience to target.
“Think of all those beautiful Georgian homes built in the UK during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They need period pieces of art,” he says.
“ Anything to do with the Napoleonic Wars always hits the headlines. We go nuts for it
“I’m sure that if you walk into many of those homes right now, they would have a Damien Hirst or similar contemporary piece on the wall. But as the fashion changes, the owners will want works of art that are concordant with the interior of the house.”
Shore reflects two of his deeply held trade instincts with this statement: first, that the contemporary market is unsustainable at its current pitch, and second, that it will be replaced by a resurging Old Masters market.
He is positioned now to catch this potential rising tide of collectors and appeal to traditionally minded buyers in the meantime.
Old Masters have always been one of his passions. His first major sale back in 2005 was a drawing by John Constable of Nelson’s ships by Chatham dockyard, which he bought at Christie’s South Kensington. “I spent all my money, about £2500, and sold it for £9000,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it. It was a whole new world.”
He traded in these Old Master drawings alongside his first job at Haynes Fine Art. In 2006 he left to co-start his own gallery, Trinity House Fine Art (which now has locations in Broadway in the Cotswolds, London and New York) before striking out on his own as an agent in 2013.
With 1793, he means to continue as he started, dealing through fairs and shows rather than opening up a permanent space – though taking an office somewhere is a possibility.
But the days of owning and running galleries, he says, are now behind him.
It can be slow work. Sourcing the art, having pieces restored, then finding and buying the period frames to go with them is a time-consuming process, but one he enjoys. After all, his relationship with the period dates back to his childhood.
“I’ve always liked the Napoleonic Wars since I was a kid reading the Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books,” he says. “It is glamour and romance; it is the first real world war.” n
Prices listed in captions at an exchange rate of £1=$1.42 for January 2018. Prices may be subject to change.