One of the best things about the picture sales we have in Fernhurst is that they often include first-rate artists who, for one reason or other, have vanished from the public consciousness over the years. It’s a delight and privilege to play a small role in bringing them to bidders’ attention once more, but it also gives me a bit of a thrill to clap eyes on a stunning landscape, marine scene or portrait that has been hidden away, often for decades or longer, and bring it back into the light once more.
For all the amazing talent and inspiration of the Contemporary scene and its conceptual art, I could spend hours looking at the intricate detail and colour tones of Water Williams’ (active 1841-80) rocky river landscape, On the Lledr, which will appear in our January 30 sale. Here is art at its subtle and moving Victorian best.
It may not be a masterpiece by the Pre-Raphaelites, or a striking abstract by the best of the Modern British movement, but for tone and mood, it’s the sort of work that creeps up on you and has the power to entrance. Who are the figures walking along the path, and where are they going? Is that Snowdon in the background?
This is the sort of painting in which you can truly immerse yourself, and there are plenty more of this sort waiting to be discovered out there. Now that’s thrilling.
It looks just like a scrap of paper, but to some people it is the equivalent of a rather large bank note. Notes, letters, tickets and other ephemera (as they are collectively known) can take on an entirely different perspective when it comes to auctions if they are associated with a particular person or event that has captured the public imagination.
I was reminded of that this week when I read news of a letter dating to 1803 in which King George III revealed his intention to declare war on France. Snapped up for £11,000, it is a wonderful window on history, conveying some idea of the febrile atmosphere alive in England at the time, with fears of a French invasion in the year before Napoleon crowned himself Emperor.
While a letter from a monarch might be an obvious document to tuck away for posterity, other items are less so. Who remembers the 1966 World Cup scrap album, in which you could post stickers of every team player in the world? I had one of those with only one gap, the Uruguayan defender Néstor Gonçalves. I’m not saying its price at auction would be life changing today, but I could kick myself for losing it during a house move.
The lesson? You don’t have to be a hoarder, and a nice de-clutter every now and then can perk up the home, but just take a second look at anything that you might later regret letting go.
As we head into 2019, what are going to be the significant events of the year from an auction perspective?
The one that immediately springs to mind is the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969. The market for photographs and other collectables linked to the NASA programme, and particularly the Apollo 8, 11 and 13 missions, has blossomed in recent years, to the point that one leading dealer dedicated his entire stand to the subject at TEFAF Maastricht, the world’s leading art and antiques fair. Expect interest to peak in the June sales.
The world of rock and pop will enjoy a number of major landmarks, but the two stand-outs have to be the 50th anniversary of Woodstock on August 15 and the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album release on September 26.
Original Woodstock tickets have always done reasonable business online, but you have to be very careful about fakes. Don’t forget, too, that the tickets were actually printed for the original venue, Wallkill, New York, which rejected it. By the time 50,000 hippies turned up at Woodstock, where a farmer had offered some land as an alternative, it was too late to sort out alternative ticketing, and so the event turned free – a disaster for the organisers.
However, original film footage and photos should see a spike in prices in the earlier part of the year.
Just before Christmas, I used this column to celebrate the unassailable greatness of the Rolex brand. Now, I want to reveal what, surprisingly, remains a little known fact about another magnificent brand – this time British: Bentley will be marking its centenary in about a fortnight.
As great a luxury marque as ever it was, this astonishing manufacturer started out in Cricklewood of all places, where its founder, W.O. Bentley, set up shop on January 18, 1919, a mere five years before his car won its first Le mans 24-hour race.
W.O. started as an apprentice railway engineer on the Great Northern, even working as fireman on the footplate, shovelling a total of seven tons of coal on one particularly long day.
What really got him started in the car business, though, was a bit of inspiration from a paperweight made of aluminium alloy, the metal he adapted fro use in making pistons for a modified camshaft. Sound too technical? Well it’s what helped him set a number of new records at Brooklands, and the rest is history.
The auction record for a Bentley? £5m paid for the 1929 Birkin Bentley at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2012.