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Forbes family hold sale of 38 Victorian pictures

Brothers raise cash with a few pictures from their extensive collection

(London) The Forbes family, the publishers of the Forbes magazine stable, are selling a cache of 38 Victorian pictures valued at £7.9m. The sales are being made through the Fine Art Society (FAS). All the pictures were originally purchased by Christopher “Kip” Forbes and come from the family’s London residence, Old Battersea House.

“We expect this will be our last sale,” said Kip Forbes who, with his brothers Steven (Steve), Robert and Timothy, is selling the pictures to raise cash.

Kip Forbes began collecting 19th-century pictures as a student at Princeton, telling his father, Malcolm, that an entire collection would cost the same as a single Monet Water Lilies. “My siblings looked at me as the slow one—I was buying pictures instead of shares,” he said.

FAS director Simon Edsor told The Art Newspaper that, at time of going to press, sales had been brisk for the pictures. “So far, we have two sales, one picture out on approval and a number of things in play,” he said. Prices in the public domain range from £25,000, up to £1m for two oil paintings by John Everett Millais and Edward Burne-Jones. The top picture is a James Abbott McNeill Whistler from 1890, Portrait of a Baby, Miss Amy Brandon Thomas; Mr Edsor would not reveal the price for this work. Whistler oil portraits are a rarity and only three have appeared at auction since 1985.

To date, buyers have been entirely British. “But now, we are in discussion with clients from Spain and America,” said Mr Edsor. Many of the pictures were purchased for a fraction of their present day value. For example, Millais’s 1882 For the Squire, which was featured at the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair in June, “cost only 1,800 guineas”, said Mr Forbes.

In seeming defiance of the recession, Victorian pictures are spiking in price. “The £481,000 paid by The Fine Art Society on behalf of a private British collector at Christie’s last week, for the hotly-contested, charming but small A Village Maiden, 1886, by Sir George Clausen, shows the trend continuing,” said Mr Edsor. Kip Forbes says the group of pictures represents less than 10% of what the family has previously sold. In February 2003, at Christie’s in London, “The Forbes Collection of Victorian Pictures and Works of Art”, consisting of 355 lots, made £16.9m and racked up 65 artist records.

However this latest sale from the Forbes family holdings has hardly made a dent in the collection at Old Battersea House. “The walls do not look naked but happily congested,” said Kip Forbes of their London home on the Thames.