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'Castello Estense, Ferrara', a watercolour by Richard Parkes Bonington – £110,000 at the Daniel Katz sale at Sotheby’s.

'Refining Taste' was the epithet that Sotheby’s (25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) gave to the online auction of works from the collection of London dealer Daniel Katz.

It seems apt given what is known about his broad interests both as a dealer for over five decades and as an inveterate collector with a mercurial eye across disciplines, genres and periods.

In the trade and beyond, Katz has an enviable reputation not just for selecting works with intrinsic quality but also for complementing them with other objects in eclectic and eye-catching displays, whether in his Mayfair gallery or on his stands at the world’s major art fairs.

The current group of 140 lots, which was sold in a timed sale running from May 20-27, featured works “personally chosen” by Katz. Although it contained a few antiquities and later European sculpture – the field in which he first established himself as a leading dealer – about three-quarters of the lots were pictures.

Katz chose to offer the works as part of a wider decision to change tack, narrowing the focus of the works of art he handles. “As I near my 72nd birthday I want to slow down my business and work differently, turning my focus to my interests in philanthropy, academia, music, dance and neurology,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for others to start collecting. An opportunity for people who are spending more time in their homes right now to explore and buy something reasonably priced and beautiful, and when they get them home, to enjoy them as much as I have.”

The sale at Sotheby’s seemed like a natural fit. It followed the auction house’s previous sales devoted to individual dealer collections including, notably, the successful online auction of 100 works from Rafael Valls in early April. Katz had also offered another set of works in a dedicated Sotheby’s auction back in November 2013 (a sale called 'Defining Taste') which raised £3.04m including premium from 282 lots.

With regard to the current sale, Katz, who has consistently said he has never bought for purely commercial reasons, apparently withdrew some works with which he realised he couldn’t bear to part. And due the current situation, 10 lots were also sold with 100% of the proceeds going to two national charities, Refuge and Trussell Trust.

Overall the sale raised £2.27m including premium with 130 of the 141 lots sold (92.2%). The Katz provenance seemed to boost some prices although it is difficult to gauge its overall effect on the sale given that other factors – including the ongoing lockdown – needs to be factored-in as well.

The sale was led by a Roman bronze arm (originally part of a near life-size sculpture) from the 1st century AD which drew fervent competition against a £30,000- 50,000 estimate and sold at £140,000 (see News, ATG No 2445).

Bonington and Sickert

The joint top-selling picture lots – a watercolour by Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28) and a painting by a Walter Sickert (1860-1942) – also fetched multi-estimate sums when they were knocked down at £110,000 apiece.

The watercolour of Italy by English Romantic painter Bonington had been bought by Katz at a Sotheby’s auction in November 2007 for £70,100 including premium. Here it was estimated at £40,000-60,000.

Dating from c.1827, the view of the Castello Estense in Ferrara, the medieval castle in the centre of the northern Italian city, was probably executed during or shortly after a tour of Italy that the artist made with his friend and patron Baron Charles Rivet during that year.

An ‘on the spot’ pencil drawing which served as the basis for the finished watercolour remained in Bonington’s studio until his untimely death at the age of 27. At his estate sale in 1829, it was acquired by the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne.

This watercolour over pencil heightened with bodycolour, which measured 7½ x 6in (19 x 15cm), also had a distinguished provenance.

It once belonged to Louis-Philippe Albert Orléans, Comte de Paris, the grandson of the last King of France. Along with its fine condition and fresh colours, this also added to its appeal commercially and helped it to command no fewer than 19 bids.

The £110,000 price, paid by a private UK collector, represented a rise in value compared to the sum Katz had paid for it 13 years ago, even accounting for inflation – something which arguably went against the grain in terms of the general market for English watercolours.

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'Coin de la Rue Sainte Catherine, Dieppe' by Walter Sickert – £110,000 at Sotheby's.

An even stronger competition came for Sickert’s view of Dieppe which was estimated at £15,000- 20,000 and received 36 bids.

Coin de la Rue Sainte Catherine, Dieppe, a 15 x 18½in (38 x 47cm) signed oil on canvas, dated from c.1899 and was part of the considerable body of work the artist produced on his regular visits to the Normandy resort over four decades, as well as his permanent residence there between 1898-1905.

This view of a street corner featured a glimpse of the town’s cathedral, St Jacques, to the left and was very much a known work, featuring in books and public exhibitions dedicated to the artist including, most recently, the Sickert in Dieppe show at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery in 2015.

While Sickert’s Dieppe scenes are not uncommon at auction, this particular example was admired for its swift painterly brushwork and handling of light.

Even still, the £110,000 bid by a collector from the Americas looked especially strong considering another oil on board depicting the same view sold for £15,000 at Sotheby’s in September 2018, albeit a smaller example.

The results for other views of the French resort by Sickert sold in the last five years suggest this price may have been at least double the normal going rate for such a picture.

Mixed Nash response

Another Modern British artist represented at the sale was Paul Nash (1889-1946), although here the performance was more mixed.

A drawing titled Landscape of Bleached Objects, estimated £40,000- 60,000, failed to sell, while a work on paper depicting the sea, beach and pier in Swanage went below estimate at £28,000, selling to a US buyer.

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'Swanage, Low Tide', watercolour by Paul Nash – £28,000 at the Daniel Katz sale staged by Sotheby’s.

The latter, although quintessentially Nash in terms of its subject of the Dorset coast at low tide, restrained palette and faintly surrealist style, may have not been the freshest work in the sale, having sold at Sotheby’s in 2002 and since been with the London trade.

The 15 x 22¼in (39 x 57cm) signed pencil, watercolour and wash on paper dated from 1935, the year that Nash was commissioned by the poet John Betjeman to produce views of Dorset as part of The Shell Guide series. It was an attractive work that was executed when he lived at No 2 The Parade in Swanage, which now bears a blue plaque for Nash.

Elsewhere in the sale, one of the 19th century works that brought interest (in this case seven bids), was Bruxelles, le Canal de Louvain by Eugène Louis Boudin (1824-98).

The 15 x 23in (38 x 58cm) signed oil on panel dated from 1871 during the artist’s enforced exile from France during the Franco-Prussian War which broke out a year earlier.

Having relocated to Antwerp, he produced a series of impressionistic landscapes including a number of views of Dutch and Belgian waterways both during this period and in subsequent trips to the low countries in the years that followed.

This work depicting the canal in Brussels with bright red roofs and smoking factory chimney visible in the background was probably one of his plein air paintings. Boudin was a forerunner of working outdoors, greatly influencing later artists, not least Claude Monet, although this picture’s composition and use of perspective also showed how in other ways he also looked back to earlier Dutch art.

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Bruxelles, le Canal de Louvain by Eugène Louis Boudin – £70,000 at Sotheby's.

Again, this was a work that had previously sold at auction not too long ago and had subsequently been with the London trade.

Its previous saleroom appearance was at Sotheby’s New York in May 2011 where it drew good competition and sold at $122,500 (then £74,337) including premium. Here it was estimated at £60,000-80,000 and it met a decent response, selling at £70,000 (or £87,500 with premium) to a UK private collector.

While Boudin’s larger scenes of French subjects, especially beaches, can command much higher six-figure sums, this was a good performance for a work of this size and, given the current climate, an encouraging sign in terms of the market holding up during a difficult period for the wider economy.

Overall, both Sotheby’s and Katz will surely be pleased with the sale. Bidders at the auction came from over 30 countries and an average of four parties competed for each lot. The auction was billed as “providing an extraordinary opportunity for collectors” and no doubt the successful buyers will now be able to further demonstrate their own refined taste.

The Daniel Katz story

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Dealer Daniel Katz started out specialising in sculpture but has branched out into other areas.

Daniel Katz began dealing in 1968, initially helping out in his father’s antique shop in Brighton.

After coming to London, he spent long periods studying at the Victoria & Albert Museum, meeting the late Anthony Radcliffe who was then assistant keeper of architecture and sculpture.

Radcliffe became a close friend and guided him in studying Renaissance bronzes.

Among Katz’s discoveries was a bronze double-figure group of Bireno and Olimpia he spotted in a shop window in Brighton – it turned out to be not just a rediscovered sculpture, but also a rediscovered sculptor: Ferdinando Tacca.

He has subsequently sold works to British Museum, The Louvre, J Paul Getty Museum and the National Gallery in London (including the Joaquín Sorolla painting reported in last week’s issue) among others.

As well as sculpture, Katz has moved into other areas from Old Masters to Modern British art, both as a dealer and collector. He has financed art history projects including the Daniel Katz Curator of Twentieth Century Art at the Courtauld Institute.

In 2014 the Katz gallery acquired a grand Edwardian town house in Hill Street, Mayfair, where he and the team continue to trade. They have reopened after the easing of lockdown with reduced hours of 10am-5pm Monday to Friday.

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