One of the 241 fine proof plates, lithographed by Louis Haghe, from David Roberts’ own copy of 'The Holy Land…' that sold at Christie’s for £80,000.

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Stand-out lot in a London auction that spent three weeks online before ending on June 4 was an unusual example of David Roberts’ The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia… of 1842-49.

Part of a 99-lot Worlds Beyond sale held by Christie’s (25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) and sold at a double-estimate £80,000, it was a complete example of the rare tinted proofs before titles issue – one in which such text was printed on a separate leaf. More than that, it was a copy owned by Roberts himself.

These ‘tinted proof’ sets proved to be far less appealing than either the ordinary tinted copies or the deluxe, hand-coloured sets and Christie’s could identify only three others sold at auction in the past 40 years.

Roberts died in 1864 and Christie’s first auctioned his pictures, before in May 1865 offering his library. This Holy Land… set was acquired at £30 10s 0d by London dealer Bernard Quaritch, who may well have had the cabinet in which it appeared here specially made at the time.

Other notable results included, at £13,000, an 1847 first of Hermann von Helmholtz’s Über die Erhaltung der Kraft…, a work containing the first comprehensive statement of the first law of thermodynamics.

Real friend


The most expensive of Quentin Blake’s ‘Imaginary Friends’, which made £9500 at Christie's.

A very different addition to this sale was a group of ink on paper drawings by Sir Quentin Blake – a dozen ‘Imaginary Friends’ created specially to raise funds for ‘Comic Relief’ and other charities needing support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to the sale Blake explained: “When I was asked to make some drawings for Comic Relief I naturally thought of all those people isolated by lockdown, and I realised that I voluntarily spend quite lot of time on my own, with pen in hand, drawing imaginary friends (well, not always friends, actually).”

Each drawing was given a notional estimate of £500-800 but they raised £54,400 in all and the drawing of a man and a big bear seen above led the bidding at £9500.