Politics has become a fairly ugly word in recent times, but it can create interest for the auction world, as we have just seen with the sale of items belonging to the late PM Harold Wilson. The sale came a year after the death of his wife, Mary, at the age of 102. A notable poet and confidante of the much-loved Poet Laureate John Betjeman, Lady Wilson was also a judge of the Booker Prize, so no slouch she.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Wilsons’ lives, as unveiled by many of the lots on offer in the sale, was just how ordinary they were in many ways for the leader of our country and his family. Of the 700 pieces on offer, Wilson’s trademark Gannex raincoat and pipe proved to be among the most sought after, with the latter taking a six-times-estimate £320. My favourite lot was the bottle of centenary HP Sauce made for the PM, which took £250.
Now, I understand, that the Wilsons’ bungalow in the Scilly Isles, where they spent many a happy holiday walking with packed lunches, is also up for sale. Devoid of luxury, it harks back to an era before the complex times we live in today.
The dispersal of the Wilsons’ rather simple and modest collection of belongings made me wistful in more ways than one.
A lot of people will have heard of the Bauhaus, but I suspect few will know what it was. As 2019 is its centenary, this is the perfect time to find out more.
In short, the Bauhaus was an art school in Weimar, Germany, founded by the modernist architect Walter Gropius. Although directed towards architecture, the philosophy that underpinned the Bauhaus was all about providing the complete package when it came to building, interior design and art. Look around you today and you will see its influence in everything from industrial design and graphic design to contemporary architecture and even typography.
The Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925 and then Berlin in 1932 before falling victim to Nazi disapproval just a year later; Hitler promoted classical architecture and despised what he saw as the communist ideals behind what the Bauhaus represented.
In 14 short years, the Bauhaus changed the way we looked at the world, sweeping away the staid conventions that had dominated the design of buildings, works of art and everyday items for centuries, just as the old order that had dominated Europe for centuries also faced its demise at the end of the Great War.
In many ways, the Bauhaus was very much of its time. Had it survived, it’s likely that its influence would have declined as its ideas diversified, diluting its original vision.
As an auctioneer, Bauhaus-influenced material turning up in the saleroom is almost always a boon, its force and beauty inevitably lead to furious bidding.
As Tiger Woods donned the green jacket at Augusta on April 14, the world choked back a tear. Not only was this one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time, it was also redemption for a man who, admittedly partially through his own fault, had spent years plagued by his own set of personal demons.
Golfing memorabilia is among the most sought-after at auction, although prices have softened in recent years, rather reflecting the fortunes of Woods. With the return to form of golf’s greatest modern star, I can well see prices rising once more, as an increasing number of fans take an interest in clubs, balls and other ephemera.
With this in mind, keep an eye out for the price made by what is purported to be the oldest golf scorecard in the world, dating to December 2, 1820. As I write this, the May 1 sale still has to take place, but by the time you read it, the card, estimated at £2500-3500 for an Edinburgh auction, should have sold.
It records the shots played by a Mr Cundell over ten holes at Musselburgh, where his score was 84 – hardly magnificent, but, as we learn from his own commentary added to the card, he faced a “dreadful storm of wind and rain”. He made another impact on the game, however, publishing one of the first ever rule books on golf in 1824.
After decades in the business, it never ceases to amaze me how new developments can still amaze me! The latest to do so is artwork generated by artificial intelligence now selling at auction. It’s not often that I dwell on the philosophical, but I do wonder whether anything created by a computer programme, without the input of the spark of life and spiritual inspiration, can be classified as art. I’m not expecting an answer to that one in the next five minutes – after all, the human race has been creating art for at least tens of thousands of years and no one has yet been able to pin down a catch-all precise definition of what art actually is, and in many ways I hope they never do, because that would break art’s magic spell.
This calls to mind the late great Kenneth Clark, whose ground-breaking TV series Civilisation put the cultural cap on the 1960s, exactly 50 years ago (it ran from February to May 1969).
In his introduction to the first episode, entitled The Skin of our Teeth, Clark famously opined: “What is civilisation? I don’t know; I can’t define it in abstract terms, but I think I can recognise it when I see it.” Of all the emblems of civilisation across the world, what did he decide to use as his backdrop to illustrate this point? Notre Dame in Paris.