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Art market

SCENES of crowded stagecoaches sweeping along dusty country roads pulled by galloping horses were Charles Cooper Henderson’s (1803-77) forte.

Widely regarded as the greatest coaching painter of the 19th century, he worked during the golden age of stagecoach travel in the Regency period, when improvements in coach design and road construction enabled travel times to be slashed from days to hours.

Though the development of the railways in the 1830s replaced the stagecoach as the dominant mode of transport, this short-lived picturesque chapter in long-distance transportation appealed to Henderson and a host of others, including James Pollard, and became a popular subject with patrons and the public.

Today, the market for coaching scenes corresponds with the performance of wider equestrian art: peaking in the late 20th century before a change in collecting habits and tastes signalled a downturn in demand. Nevertheless, a few deeppocketed collectors remain, flexing their muscles when good material by the right names is offered at auction. Exemplifying this was the performance of a clutch of pictures that turned up at John Nicholson’s (24% buyer’s premium) sale in Surrey on February 1.

The six-lot group – comprising five Hendersons and a Pollard – came from a single anonymous source, and had been acquired alongside other coach scenes over several decades from leading London dealers (more will be offered in March, see caption story opposite).

In ‘ready to hang’ condition, the group drew competition from two private bidders, one in England and the other in Germany, who between them mopped up all bar one work (a rather static Henderson snow scene of the Chester London Royal Mail estimated at £4000-6000) to total £50,000.

Enticing fervent bidding reminiscent of the bullish days of equestrian art buying was a lively coach scene by Henderson. The buyers locked horns, pushing bidding beyond a respectable £4000-6000 guide to sell for almost double the top estimate to the German buyer at £11,000.

Inscribed York House to the coach’s front, the 17in x 2ft 3in (43 x 69cm) oil on canvas probably depicts the 110-mile service that ran between Bath and London. Henderson painted the oncoming coach travelling at high speed, whipping up dust from the road as it passes alongside a jockey with two horses.

Signed with the artist’s monogram, the canvas bears labels for London dealers Frost & Reed and Arthur Ackermann & Son.

Topping the group, and considered a highlight of Henderson’s oeuvre, was a pair of expertly painted companion oils depicting the colourful hustle and bustle of Ascot Races. Arriving at Ascot Races and Returning from Ascot Races, both 21in x 4ft (53cm x 1.21m), are filled with scores of horse-drawn carriages and coaches overladen with smartlydressed figures winding along a road.

The duo had been on the market before: first at Sotheby’s in 1998 where they fetched £32,000, then at Christie’s in 2008 taking a premiuminclusive £42,500, a price that established a record for the artist at auction. The pair also had labels for London dealers Richard Green.

At John Nicholson’s, the canvases matched their 1998 price, selling to the English buyer at £32,000.