Single-owner collections with good provenance are what auction houses and dealers across the country spend much of their time trying to track down. They are the lifeblood of the trade.
And when it comes to provenance, a group of works owned by a member of the royal family is usually the stuff dreams are made of.
Bellmans (22% buyer’s premium) of Wisborough Green, West Sussex, featured such a collection at its August 11-13 sale.
On offer was a 71-lot selection of oil paintings, watercolours and prints from the collection of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1900-74), the queen’s uncle, which came to auction directly from his family.
The Bellmans offering followed Christie’s auction of 237 lots from the family collection in December last year.
Sold in a dedicated auction along with 80 lots from the Earls of Harewood collection, the Christie’s sale realised a premium-inclusive £1.74m. Top lot among that Gloucester group had been a John Wootton (c.1682-1764) portrait of a gentleman on horseback that was knocked down at £60,000.
While the Christie’s sale offered a mixture of work of art, furniture and memorabilia, the West Sussex consignment was pictures only.
With more than half the lots being works on paper relating to the 10th Royal Hussars, this lent a more tangible personal connection to Prince Henry himself and meant the price range for individual works was fairly broad with some of the prints relating to his beloved regiment fetching under £100 (see separate story in this issue).
When it came to the top works, however, the royal provenance certainly seems to have commanded a premium.
The fourth child of King George V and Queen Mary, Prince Henry set a couple of royal ‘firsts’. He was the first child of a British monarch to be educated at school, rather than tutored at home. In later life he became the only member of the British royal family to hold the post of Governor-General of Australia (1945-47).
Indeed, the top price of the consignment at Bellmans was an Australian picture with a royal subject. It was a watercolour by Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), the most sought-after Australian artist of the period, depicting Sydney Harbour on June 22, 1911: George V’s coronation day.
Streeton was a leading member of the Heidelberg school, the group of artists who are now regarded as the chief exponents of Australian Impressionism. Commercially his works have risen in value over the last 20 years, although the highest price for the artist remains the private sale of the 1889 landscape Golden Summer, Eaglemont to the National Gallery of Australia for Aus$3.5m (£1.69m) back in 1995.
Other Streeton pictures of Sydney Harbour are known. The artist painted at least two large oils in 1907, one of which is now in the National Gallery of Victoria and another that sold at Sotheby’s Australia in August 2016 for a hammer price of Aus$1.7m (£980,220), the second-highest price for the artist at auction (source: Artprice by Artmarket).
While the picture at Bellmans was a much smaller 6¾ x 9¾in (17 x 25cm) work on paper, it had strong appeal not just because it was by Streeton but also on account of its style and colouring as well as its subject matter and, of course, provenance.
Signed to lower right and inscribed with the title and date to the lower left, it showed plenty of boats lining the harbour for the coronation of the lot’s previous owner’s father.
The £2000-4000 pitch hardly looked excessive for such a work and it duly commanded significant interest. It was knocked down to an Australian buyer at £16,000 – a sum that stands as one of the highest at auction for a Streeton watercolour. ATG understands that it is now likely to go on public exhibition in the artist’s homeland.
Overall the Prince Henry collection raised a hammer total of £57,460 with only four of the 71 lots unsold. As well as the bidding from Down Under, the auction house said that a US collector bought a number of lots while strong participation also came from UK private buyers.
Another notable highlight in the collection was a drawing by John Hayter (1800-95), a lot that drew even greater competition and sold to the UK trade. The 17½ x 11¾in (44.5 x 30cm) pencil sketch, heightened with white and red chalk, was signed and dated 1880. It was estimated at £300-500.
The subject of a young girl seated on a terrace with a parrot perched nearby proved to have substantial appeal to bidders. It was also finely executed and in good condition.
Hayter, who was the son of miniaturist Charles Hayter, was something of an expert in depicting young aristocratic women in chalk or crayon, a number of which were engraved for the volumes of The Court Album, portraits of the female aristocracy published from 1850-57.
Although this drawing was made over 20 years later, it certainly showed the artist had lost none of his touch or flourish. Interested parties may well have believed they could identify the sitter but, in any case, it was always likely to substantially exceed its estimate.
After strong competition, it was finally knocked down at £15,500, a record for a work on paper by the artist.