George Washington portrait

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, estimate $1.5m-2.5m at Christie’s New York.

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Lifetime portrait of Washington for sale

Among the lots in Christie’s New York Americana sale on January 18-19 at the Rockefeller Center is a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828).

The lifetime depiction of the first US president has been consigned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is estimated at $1.5m-2.5m. It is being sold to benef it its acquisition fund.

Dealer wins case over £3.6m mask

An antiques dealer who bought an African mask for £130 then sold it for £3.6m at auction in France has won a legal battle against its previous owners after the judge ruled the French couple from whom he had bought it had failed to appreciate its true worth.

According to media reports, the couple from NÎmes in France were clearing out their home in 2021 and decided to sell the mask along with many other items. They agreed to sell the mask for €150 (£130), but in March 2022 it sold at auction at Hotel des Ventes Montpellier for €4.2m (£3.6m) or €5.25m with buyer’s premium (estimate of €300,000-400,000).

It was catalogued as a rare 19th-century mask from the Fang people in Gabon and believed to be from its Ngil secret society.

During the court case the dealer denied knowing its value when he purchased it, saying that he undertook research following valuations by three separate auctioneers. He had also offered to pay the couple €300,000 (the low estimate of the mask at the auction). Instead, the family took the dealer to court.

It is believed the mask was taken from Gabon c.1917 by René-Victor Fournier, a colonial administrator who was an ancestor of the couple that sold the mask.

According to reports, the judge said the couple had failed to make any attempt to get the mask valued before selling and they were not owed any money.

The court also threw out a separate motion by the government of Gabon to have the sale cancelled and the mask returned.

Sienese panels pair goes to US collector

Two rare Old Master paintings from the Sienese school of the early 14th century that had been rediscovered in France have been sold at auction.

The panels by Pietro Lorenzetti, active in Siena from 1306-45, depict St Sylvester and St Helena and were offered at Tajan in Paris on December 13. St Sylvester sold for €2.4m (against an estimate of €1.5m-2m) and St Helena made €1.3m (guide €400,000-600,000).

Including buyer’s premium the total price paid was €4.7m.

Tajan said that both panels were bought by a major US collector of Contemporary art who is also a regular client of the auction house.

The panels were probably part of a large altarpiece made of five or seven panels, which were likely to have been cut apart, having fallen out of fashion in the 18th century.

The tempera and gold leaf on wood panels were acquired in Paris in 1860 and stayed within the family. Recently Old Master specialist Cabinet Turquin rediscovered them in the family’s collection and consigned them to Tajan.

Report unveils gifts going on display

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

A manuscript of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil c.1962 by JRR Tolkien.

The latest annual Cultural Gifts Scheme and Acceptance in Lieu Annual Report has been published detailing the artworks and objects that will go on show to the public.

During 2023, 48 items have been allocated to museums, galleries, archives and libraries with a value of more than £52m. They have been accepted for the nation via the Arts Council England’s (ACE) schemes.

Highlights include books and manuscripts of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, two volumes of poems by Robert Burns inscribed by the poet, original scripts from TV programme Spitting Image, two sculptures by artist Barbara Hepworth and a ceramic by artist potter Magdalene Odundo.

The books and manuscripts of Lewis and Tolkien come from the late Walter Hooper collection. After Lewis’ death, Hooper (1931-2020) became his literary executor. Included in the archive is the authors’ unpublished correspondence, Lewis’ personal copy of Prince Caspian, items such as Lewis’ desk, pipes and a pair of spectacles as well as manuscripts by Tolkien.

The books and manuscripts have been permanently allocated to the Bodleian Library and the personal possessions to The Story Museum, Oxford, initially on a temporary basis subject to a review.

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In Numbers


The (unsurprising) digit on the first car number plate issued in Australia in 1910. Fresh to market, the New South Wales NSW 1 plate appears in a sale at local auction house Lloyds, on January 27. Within 72 hours of the lot being posted in December, bidding hit Aus$10m (£5.3m) in what will be a record auction price for any Aussie number plate.