Portrait of a child in a black and white dress by Jean Baptiste Greuze, £45,000 at Dreweatts.

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When it comes to traditional pictures, it is generally a prerequisite for works to be fresh to the market and in good condition in order to generate significant demand at auction.

If they are not, the estimates need to reflect the realities of the sector, otherwise interest will be sparse and the casualty rate high.

A series of good quality Continental pictures that added a touch of colour to Dreweatts’ (26/25% buyer’s premium) latest Old Master, British and European art sale showed how keeping a lid on reserves, and thereby allowing for a more attractive pitch, can yield significant benefit.

Indeed, despite various issues relating to condition and market freshness, their performance demonstrated how lively competition is still possible even in this so-called ‘slower’ area.

The top lot by some distance was an original Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) Indian scene, a view of the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram that made a hefty £165,000 (see Pick of the Week in ATG No 2632).

Another British picture making a high price was a tempera on paper of an undressed model lying on a bed by Sir William Russell Flint (1880-1969), selling at £34,000 to a UK buyer against American interest.

However, the decent offering of European pictures from different periods duly attracted keen interest from across the Channel and also played a key part in helping push the overall hammer total to £980,040 from 288 lots. The sell-through rate was 74%.

Old Master demand

Two French Old Masters from the same source, a UK private collection, in particular caught the eye at the auction in Newbury on February 21.

One was a portrait of a child by Jean Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805), an example of his many smaller-format ‘têtes d’expression’ that he painted from the 1760s onwards.

A fair of number of these ‘expressive heads’ depict children, very often embodying the late 18th-century cult of sentimentalism - a literary movement which Greuze famously adapted into his trademark visual form.

This 14¾ x 11¾in (38 x 30cm) oil on panel, pictured above, which depicted the child in a black and white dress with curly yellow locks and the head inclined at a typically ‘Greuzian’ angle, was not unlike a number of similar portraits from c.1760 - most notably, in terms of commercial presence at least, one titled Le Petit Boudeur that made €400,000 (£332,800) at Christie’s Paris in 2010 and another bust-length portrait of a young girl wearing a bonnet that realised £260,000 at Christie’s London in 2016.

While the work in Newbury was described by Dreweatts picture specialist Daniele Amesso as “a sweet and captivating painting” with the brushwork “so fluid and full of movement”, the fact that such examples regularly come to the market inevitably mean buyers can be selective. While it looked a good bet against a £20,000-30,000 estimate, a few notable condition issues seem to have limited the value.

The panel surface had a thick uneven varnish and UV light revealed extensive retouching, including to the face, and patches of restoration.

Nevertheless, with a sensible lid kept on the estimate, it attracted interest from both UK and European bidders, and was eventually knocked down at £45,000 to a European buyer - a sum not far removed from those fetched by other Greuze portraits on this scale.


Arcadian landscape by Gaspard Dughet, £40,000 at Dreweatts.

The other work from the same source was an Arcadian landscape by Gaspard Dughet (1615-75), again an artist who appears with some regularity on the market partly on account of his speed of execution, meaning he produced a significant volume of somewhat similar works.

A student of Nicolas Poussin, Dughet’s speciality was Italianate landscapes with wide vistas and figures to the foreground. This 18½in x 2ft 1in (47 x 63cm) oil on canvas was highly typical, although smaller than many that have emerged at auction in the last 20 years.

It had a label on the back of the stretcher for London dealer Colnaghi but again it had extensive retouching and infilling, as well as the paint wearing a little thin, especially to the sky, which meant it was unlikely to reach the kind of high five-figure or even six-figure sums that have been recorded for Dughet in the past.

With the estimate set at an attractive £6000-8000, it drew competition from UK, European and US bidders before it was knocked down at £40,000 to a UK private collector.

Luxury taste


L’Arrivée de la Princesse by Gaston La Touche, a work commissioned for the SS France liner, £11,000 at Dreweatts.

One of the most colourful works in the Dreweatts sale - both in terms of appearance and provenance - was a painting of figures welcoming the arrival of a princess as she descends from a carriage.

L’Arrivée de la Princesse was a large-scale painting by French painter, illustrator, engraver and sculptor Gaston La Touche (1854-1913). It was commissioned for one of the most luxurious ships of the early 1900s, the SS France. She was known as the ‘Château de l’Atlantique’, or the ‘Versailles du Mer’, as the interiors were opulently decorated in the gilded Louis XIV style, emulating the Palace of Versailles.

The ship was built in St Nazaire in 1911 and La Touche was asked to create the 10ft 2in x 6ft 3in (3.11 x 1.92m) oil on panel to go above the staircase in the grand two-tiered first-class dining room. Following its time on the ship this picture passed to the private collection of Henri Cangardel, chairman of the Compagnie Transatlantique French Line, and then entered another private collection in London.

While La Touche’s large genre scenes have fetched over £30,000 at least 20 times at auction in the past, this picture had a few condition issues and had previously been unsold twice at auction in the last 30 years: first at Sotheby’s in 1998 where it was estimated at £20,000-30,000 and then again at Christie’s New York in 2000 where it was pitched at $30,000-50,000.

UV light revealed extensive restoration to the lower part of the panel as well as numerous fillings in the cracks across the whole surface.

Here the estimate at Dreweatts was set at the lower level of £8000-12,000 and the work drew demand, including from a European institution that was able to secure it at £11,000.

A pair of ‘Ladies of the Empire’ portraits by Flemish artist François Joseph Kinsoen (1771-1839) also drew interest from several European bidders against a £10,000-15,000 estimate, selling at £19,000 to the Italian trade.

Depicting Aglaé Ney, a lady-in-waiting to Empress Joséphine, and her sister Adèle Auguié, the signed pair of oils on canvas had previously passed through North Yorkshire gallery David Wade Fine Art. Again, the works had scattered retouching and signs of repair.

Roman views

Among the European works on paper at Dreweatts, a pair of views of historical sites in Rome by French artist Pierre-Joseph Antoine (1730-1814) were among the lots going above predictions.

Both red chalk drawings on paper measuring 13¼ x 17¼in (34 x 44cm), one depicted the Palace of the Senators and the other the steps leading to the Vignola Portico. They were in fact derived from two drawings by Hubert Robert from 1762 which are now part of the collection of the Musée de Valence.

Having been unsold when they appeared at Sotheby’s as separate lots last summer, each estimated at £3000-4000, here they were offered as a single lot pitched at £3000-5000.

After bringing interest from a number of UK bidders, the lot sold at £6000, again showing the benefit of lower expectations and how offering something for less can often lead to more.