Although the size of Bonhams’ (27.5/25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) latest 19th Century and British Impressionist Art sale in London was smaller in terms of number of lots than equivalent sales from before the pandemic, some notable bidding action was witnessed among the works on offer.
Overall, the 83-lot auction on March 31 raised £2.17m including premium with a respectable take-up rate of 81% by lot and 91% sold by value. While a painting by Alice Boyd (1823-97) was the commercial highlight, making £190,000 and setting a record price 29 times over estimate, a number of other lots also caught the eye.
Owned by an emperor
These included a set of five paintings representing the five senses by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger (1814-93) which came to auction with an illustrious provenance.
Les Cinq Sens caused quite a stir when they were first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1865 where, according to Bonhams’ research, they were acquired as a group for 25,000 francs by the French Emperor Napoléon III himself. The artist received the Lé-gion d’Honneur the following year.
Subsequently owned by Sir Richard Wallace, the British art collector who kept the pictures first in his château near Paris and then at Sudbourne Hall in Suffolk, they were then sold at Christie’s in 1913. The works were later acquired in the 1960s by the farming and poultry tycoon Bernard Matthews for Great Witchingham Hall near Norwich.
The works depicted two models in different poses with each canvas representing touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste respectively.
The catalogue described the subjects as ‘elegant and charming’ and, while the style may have been a bit saccharine for some, the pictures were deemed fine examples of the artist’s skill as a painter.
Born in Frankfurt, Schlesinger studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Vienna before moving permanently to France, exhibiting regularly and successfully at the Salon between 1840-90.
All the oil on canvases here measured 3ft 10in x 2ft 11in (1.16m x 90cm) and the lot was estimated at £70,000-100,000. On the day it drew competition from a number of bidders from different countries before it was knocked down at £160,000. Equating to £32,000 per picture, the price looked relatively strong given that only three works by the artist had made a comparatively higher price.
The record for an individual work by Schlesinger is the £70,000 bid for an earlier portrait of Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II that sold at Sotheby’s in April 2009.
Head of 19th Century and British Impressionist Art at Bonhams Charles O’Brien said: “These are beautiful paintings which impressed when they were first exhibited more than 150 years ago and have never lost their appeal.
“Bidding was international and intense, and the price reflects not only the high quality of the works but also the continued strength of the market for the very best 19th century genre paintings.”
Elsewhere in the sale, two works by John William Godward (1871-1922) were on offer, one of which, Waiting for the Procession, came from a private collection in the US.
Depicting two women perching on a classical monument, the 3ft 6in x 3ft 4in (1.07m x 71cm) oil on canvas which was signed and dated JW Godward 90, originally sold for £90, the most expensive work produced by the artist up to that time.
Here it was offered with a £200,000-300,000 estimate. Although it sold under expectations at £190,000, this was the joint top lot of the sale.
The following Godward lot, a much smaller work, made a lesser sum but drew more bidding. Study for Amaryllis, a 7 x 9in (18 x 23cm) signed oil on panel from 1903, was a fully worked-up preparatory study for a larger painting which was bought by soap manufacturer A&F Pears and published as a chromolithographic print in the 1906 Pears Annual.
With the fair-haired maiden reclining on a marble seat draped with a tiger skin, the work was described in Vern Swanson’s 2018 edition of his biography of the artist as an “exquisite example of classical treatment”. Finding admirers at the auction too, it overshot a £12,000- 18,000 estimate and was knocked down at £55,000 – a considerable price per square inch.
A landscape by John Edward Newton (1835-91) depicting a view near Sefton, Merseyside, also attracted bids against a £10,000-15,000 estimate.
The artist was a member of the Liverpool Academy who was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and, like his companion and friend James Campbell, he left his native city and moved to London, exhibiting at the Royal Academy between 1862-87.
His work is relatively scarce and seldom appears at auction. The 21½in x 2ft 9in (55 x 83cm) oil on canvas here, which was signed with the artist’s initials and dated 1863, was a known work. It had passed through London dealer Julian Hartnoll and until recently had been on loan from a private collection to the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum in Birkenhead.
At Bonhams, it was bid to £14,000, a sum that appears to be an auction record for the artist.