British decorative art auction proves risky
Mixed results for Sotheby’s and private dealer’s joint venture
By The Art Newspaper. Market, Issue 191, May 2008
Published online: 01 May 2008
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Its unpublished estimate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
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).
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