Several recent sales of Orientalist pictures showed demand continuing to arrive on the highest quality and most striking examples.
Comfortably the top-performing lot in the latest Orientalist sale at Sotheby’s (25% buyer’s premium + 1% overhead premium) was The Bazaar of the Coppersmiths, Cairo by David Roberts (1796-1864).
Inscribed and dated on the reverse Street in Grand Cairo Painted for George Knott Esq 1842, this is one of the earliest of a small group of Cairo street views that Roberts painted in the 1840s.
A lithograph showing an almost identical viewpoint, but with a different arrangement of figures, formed part of the artist’s 248-plate publishing project The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia.
The area known to Westerners as the Bazaar of the Coppersmiths was the Sharia al-Nahhasin (Arabic for coppersmiths), part of Sharia Mu’izz id-Din Allah, the Qasaba or the great ceremonial high street of Fatimid Cairo. The building most prominent on the left is part of the façade of the 13th century Madrasa of Baybars that was destroyed in 1874.
The 4ft 8in x 3ft 8in (1.43 x 1.12m) picture has a full exhibition history and extensive auction provenance. It was first sold at Christie’s in 1845 after Knott, a prosperous wholesale grocer, died, and was purchased by the vendor in 1976.
Offered with a conservative estimate of £60,000-80,000 at the auction on March 29, it took £320,000 (£403,200 with premium). While the artist’s record remains the £800,000 for a view of Jerusalem sold at Christie’s in 2016, this was the fourth-highest sum for Roberts according to Artprice.
Sotheby’s said it could not disclose any information about the buyer.
Another of the works attracting interest at the sale was a dramatic silhouetted view of figures on the Nile by the French artist Charles Théodore Frère (1814-88).
The 3ft 8in x 5ft 11in (1.11 x 1.81m) signed oil on canvas from 1877 depicted three watercarriers with a train of camels heading towards the water in the distance.
Frère was a prolific and celebrated Orientalist in his day. From 1839-87 he exhibited more than 120 landscapes and street scenes of north Africa at the Paris Salon, with his views of Egypt in particular admired for their colouring, technical quality and authenticity.
Though based in Paris, Frère kept a studio in Cairo and became an honorary Egyptian when the country’s government bestowed on him the title of ‘bey’.
Today his works crop up regularly on the market but, while the market can be fairly selective, this picture looked an attractive proposition against its £60,000-80,000 estimate thanks to its commercial subject matter and striking wall-power with its vivid, luminous palette and spectacular sunset.
After a good competition, it sold at £105,000 (£132,300 with premium), the third-highest price for the artist and the highest since a view of camel riders crossing the desert made a record €150,000 (£135,115) at Artcurial in Paris in December 2018.
Overall, Sotheby’s sale raised a total of £2.3m with premium with 53 of the 66 lots sold (80%), a good take-up which seemed to justify the decision to offer a slimmed-down auction.
A family affair
Meanwhile, a joint work by two British Orientalists who became famous for their views of the Indian subcontinent turned heads at Forum (25% buyer’s premium) in London on March 31.
The pencil and watercolour view of The Mausoleum of Sultan Purveiz, near Allahabad, by Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) and his nephew William Daniell (1769-1837), was painted during their journey through India.
The two men visited the site in November 1789, with William writing in his journal: “The remains of Sultan Purveiz, the son of the Emperor Jehangire, were here deposited about the year 1626. The simplicity of the general design of this Mausoleum, with its judicious and well-executed decorations, rank it among the most correct examples of Indian architecture.”
The 16¼ x 2ft 1in (41 x 63cm) pencil under-drawing would have been produced on the spot and then, once back in England the following year, one or both of the artists would have worked it up in watercolour and brush and ink.
As with many of their finished watercolours, it is difficult to distinguish their individual contributions. Comparative works by the two Daniells show the same handling of pencil cross-hatching and jagged delineation of foliage.
Works by both artists, whether individually produced or in collaboration, are highly prized in any case, especially those reproduced as aquatints in their highly popular printed volumes titled Oriental Scenery. This particular view was engraved and became one of the plates in the first volume published in 1805.
It came to auction as part of the library of the late Alan and Polly Mitchell which accounted for the first 142 lots of the sale.
Alan was a well-known bookseller and the consignment here comprised mainly books (also see Books & Works On Paper, ATG No 2540) but also included around a dozen works on paper, all with travel interest.
At Forum, the Mausoleum picture had a guide of £5000-7000 but, despite a few condition issues such as a few signs of restoration to old handling creases and abrasion, it drew strong interest with phonelines booked from the US, India and the UK.
After the bidding reached £20,000, it came down to a battle between two private buyers, one on the phone and the other online, before it was knocked down to the latter at £45,000.