On November 25, 1952 what has since become the world’s longest continuously running play in history opened for the first time at The Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End. The world premiere of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap had taken place just over seven weeks earlier in Nottingham, but it was at The Ambassadors and then, from March 25, 1974, next door at The St Martin’s Theatre, where it continues to this day, that the play has enjoyed it unbroken run.
The production’s first star was Richard Attenborough, whose contractual arrangements meant that the programme billed him as appearing “By arrangement with the Boulting Brothers”, the successful duo who had discovered him and helped make his name in the 1948 film version of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and would continue to put him on the screen for the next decade.
The programme also promoted other theatrical productions, including Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in The Sleeping Prince at the Phoenix Theatre and Trevor Howard in The Cherry Orchard at The Lyric, Hammersmith – Halcyon days for theatre indeed!
Occasionally one of these rare debut programmes comes onto the market. The original price was sixpence, or 2½p in new money. Now it is a very achievable £10 or so – still, a reasonable uplift of 40,000% over the intervening 65 years.
One of my favourite news stories of the past week concerned the discovery, after 128 years, of the remains of a grasshopper, which had been trapped in the paint of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 picture Olive Trees.
Rather like those gorgeous pieces of amber you occasionally see at auction, which trapped unrecognisable insects sometimes hundreds of millions of years ago as tree sap before fossilising, the discovery creates a seemingly direct link to a specific moment in time, compressing the years in between so that you can almost see and hear Vincent slapping the paint onto the canvas.
These direct connections are what many people look for when buying things at auction and explain the huge price differences between artworks described in the catalogue as ‘follower of’ (someone unidentified working in the style of a well-known artist at around the same time), ‘school of’ (a work of the time in the style of the artist), ‘studio of’ (a work from the artist’s studio or closely associated with them), ‘attributed to’ (probably, but not certainly, by the artist) and ‘autograph work’ (categorically by the artist).
In the art world, there is nothing quite like being close enough to touch the hand of the creator.
I find it extraordinary that so few people outside of the art world have ever heard of CRW Nevinson. Who? I hear you ask: quite simply one of the most accomplished of war artists, whose mechanistic paintings of troops marching to the frontline and etchings conveying the desolation of the trenches are unequalled, to my mind.
As an early exponent of Vorticism, Nevinson’s take on what an exploding shell looked like still has the impact today that it had when first unveiled during the First World War. His depiction of a dead child lying face down in a bomb blasted street is arguably the most moving artistic image to have emerged from the conflict.
Nevinson was also reputedly the first artist to paint the view of the ground from an aeroplane. That he went on to create some of the most memorable images of New York in 1919 and beyond – see his etching ‘Looking through the Brooklyn Bridge’ for starters – is testament that here was no one-hit wonder.
Now A Dawn from 1914, one his oil paintings, is set to come to auction on November 21 with expectations of up to £1m or more. Look it up and then feast your eyes on more works by Nevinson. His was a rare talent indeed.
Few watches are as iconic as the Rolex Daytona – think at least £10,000, with prices rising to hundreds of thousands of pounds for the most coveted of all, a Paul Newman Daytona, a series of limited edition watches made as a tribute to the Hollywood Great, whose association with the brand stretches back decades. So what made competing bidders fight it out to $18 million (£13.6 million) for a Daytona in New York on October 26?
In short, the personal touch. This was the watch that Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, bought for him in 1969, during filming for Winning, in which he played an obsessive racing driver with Woodward as his onscreen wife.
The film gave Newman a taste for racing and he went on to take part in the Le Mans 24-hour race.
Newman had been injured in a motorcycle accident four years earlier and so Woodward had had the stainless steel watch inscribed Drive Carefully, Me.
When she bought him another new watch in 1984, Newman handed the Daytona Rolex to his daughter’s then boyfriend, who put it up for sale last month, with some of the proceeds heading for the Nell Newman Foundation, set up by Neman’s daughter.
A Hollywood idol, admired by men and loved by women; association with an iconic 1960s film linked to motor racing; a gift from a famous actress to her even more famous husband; and finally, an iconic brand in itself.
Auction consignments like this are once in a lifetime.