The season got off to an encouraging start at Osnabrück saleroom Künker (25/20% buyer’s premium) on January 26 with prices up to €400,000 and numerous lots going considerably above the guides.
While many coins were of German origin, one of the top lots was a £5 gold ‘Una and the Lion’ coin from 1839, which was struck two years after Queen Victoria had acceded to the throne.
The guide of €80,000 was left behind and the hammer fell at €130,000 (£109,245).
The coin was designed by William Wyon, chief engraver at the Royal Mint, who had created his first portrait of Victoria when she was a 13-year-old princess.
Over the years, several other iconic portraits on coins and commemorative medals followed.
The gold coin from 1839 showed the now familiar profile of the young monarch on one side and a depiction of her leading a lion.
The choice of motif was at the time very controversial, as Wyon based his portrayal of the young queen on Lady Una, a character from Edmund Spencer’s allegorical poem The Faerie Queen which was first published in 1590. This was the first time a royal portrait had been based on a fictional character.
The controversy was short-lived; a year after the £5 coin was released another of Wyon’s portraits was used on the Penny Blacks, the first stamps ever issued.
Other examples of the ‘Una and the Lion’ coin have, however, made far more at auctions recently, depending on condition.
The record for this issue was set by MDC in Monaco in October 2020 when a coin deemed ‘ultra cameo’ (the highest-graded examples of the type) took €820,000 (£745,000), then a record for any British coin.
A example offered by St James’s Auctions on October 5 last year, graded as proof 63 deep cameo, sold within estimate at £250,000.
Ming in Munich
A German private collector was pleasantly surprised by the result for a 15th/16th century, Ming Dynasty, pear-shaped metal vessel, which he had consigned to Nusser (23% buyer’s premium) in Munich on February 8.
The design of the 2ft (62cm) high bronze vase was inspired by the archaic hu vessels which had been part of Chinese ritual ceremonies for several millennia. They were used as containers for wine or water and were later also given as presents to mark an auspicious occasion, such as a wedding or even a successful business deal.
The origins of the form reach back to ceramic vases of the Neolithic period; the first bronze examples are thought to have been produced in the 18th century BC.
The hu in Munich was decorated with traditional mythological symbols and had two handles in the shape of the stylised demonic creature tao-tie, an integral part of Chinese mythology.
Bidding started at €3000 and although international bidders, several from Asia, did their best, it was a German collector who claimed their prize at €11,000 (£9320).
A remarkable collection of Modern and Contemporary art caused a major stir at Nagel (24.5% buyer’s premium) on February 23, providing a suitable start to the Stuttgart firm’s 100th year.
On offer were 146 kites, created in the late 1980s. The idea for the unusual art project came from Paul Eubel, who at the time was head of the Goethe Institute in Osaka. He invited some 120 international artists to participate, among them such big names as Robert Rauschenberg, Nikki de Saint-Phalle and Gerhard Richter.
Almost all responded to the challenge and were subsequently sent a large piece of traditional Japanese kite paper to decorate. From 1989 the finished products were sent on tour to various museums. Eubel had hoped to find a permanent home for his Art Kite Collection, but it was not to be. He eventually took them with him to Palermo, where he had been posted, and put them in storage. He died there in 2010. Since then, the kites had been packed away and only now been released to fly again.
All the proceeds of the sale were going to charity. It was a whiteglove affair and achieved numerous spectacular results.
A case in point was Frank Stella’s 6ft 9in x 6ft 9in (2.05 x 2.05m) untitled composition, which went for €300,000 (£252,100), 10 times the upper guide.
Robert Rauschenberg’s monumental Sky house II, measuring 11ft 9in x 7ft 6in (3.58 x 2.29m), soared from €120,000 to €440,000 (£369,750).
The same price was achieved for a work by Atsuko Tanaka, 11 times the lower estimate.
Fire, the contribution of the veteran artist Yayoi Kusama (b.1929), was in the catalogue with an enticing guide of just €20,000 and, sure enough, thanks to a handful of commission bids, the bidding in the room started at €160,000. In next to no time, the final price of €680,000 (£571,430) was reached.
Favourite artist of the day was, however, Kazuo Shiraga (1924- 2008), one of the most famous postwar Japanese abstract painters. From the outset it was clear that his ink and acrylic composition Altitude flight would go far beyond the modest guide of €15,000; the unnamed buyer was taken to €240,000 (£201,680).
Another piece by Shiraga, an oil titled Purple, reached even greater heights. Bidding started at €300,000 and after a very long exchange between bidders online, on the phones and in the room, the hammer fell at €1.14m (£957,985).
£1 = €1.19