British decorative art auction proves risky

Mixed results for Sotheby’s and private dealer’s joint venture

LONDON. The Paul Reeves and Sotheby’s Best of British auction on 20 March had a varied outcome, arguably a result of

the experimental nature of the event. Dealer Paul Reeves organis­ed the sale, persuading his contacts to consign 129

lots of British decorative arts dating from 1850 to 1950. It

was a bold move by Sotheby’s: it has never pre­viously held

a sale of British design, which has histor­ically fared poorly against its American and European counterparts.

The quid pro quo was that Mr Reeves was able to mount a concurrent selling exhibition (see below).

There were highs and lows. Of 129 lots, only 74 sold (57%), with a premium-inclusive

total of £1.3m ($2.5m) against expectations of £2.5m-£3.5m. This somewhat disappointing result was skewed by the

failure of the top lot, the tapestry The Attainment: The Vision of the Holy Grail, 1891, which did not find a buyer.

Its unpublished estimate

was believed to be around

£1m ($2m).

The work is part of a six-panel cycle produced by Morris & Co to a design by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones for Stanmore Hall, Middlesex. Despite a glut of pre-sale

publicity that honed in on its Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame) provenance, it did not progress beyond a commission bid of £820,000 ($1.6m)—a result that Christopher Wood, Victorian art scholar and dealer, put down to an inflated estimate.

The sale was dominated

by Arts & Crafts, and the top

lot was a stained oak and glass cabinet by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, around 1900, which sold for £144,500 ($286,110) against an estimate of £50,000-£80,000. The buyer was the New York architecture and design firm Shelton, Mindel & Associates.

There was strong bidding over five stained glass panels by Burne-Jones, 1879, also consigned by Jimmy Page. The highest individual price was £84,500 ($167,538) for Luna; the aggregate for the set was £326,500 ($646,470).

Viv Lawes

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