Telephone bidders from Europe and further afield competed for a white marble bust of Horatio Nelson (1758- 1805) taking it to £40,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) against an estimate of just £300-500 at the April 5 sale.
Specialist dealers Armoury of St James’s said the bust can be compared with an example in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich which has been attribution to bothJohn Flaxman (1755- 1826) and Henry Weekes (1807-77). Following various investigations the museum concluded that its version of the bust is “so different from Flaxman’s better known version that an attribution to him can only be regarded as provisional”.
Armoury of St James’s said the “small size, damaged condition and comparison with better known models, were the deciding factors in generally agreeing with Duke’s estimate”.
Also in the collection was a silkwork panel portraying Nelson, estimated at just £200-400, which took £10,000, while a 1794 autograph letter to Thomas Pollard, written while Nelson was captain of HMS Agamemnon, took £3800 (against an estimate of £2000-4000).
The letter, written at sea, details the action at Bastia, Corsica, which was blockaded and attacked by the English in April-May 1794.
Duke’s specialist William Batt said: “These items, especially the letter, offer a fascinating insight into the life and history of one of Britain’s greatest naval officers. It records the relationship formed with the crew, confirming what we understand of his leadership and demonstrates his courage and passion for serving his country. It is rare we see such a demonstrative account of Nelson’s character come to the market”.
The following day, at Duke’s Art & Design Post 1880 auction (April 6), another sculpture of a British leader took the top price of the sale.
A bronze maquette of Sir Winston Churchill by Oscar Nemon (1906-85), for the statue now in situ in the Members’ Lobby of the Palace of Westminster, took £200,000 (estimate: £60,000-100,000). Signed Nemon but un-numbered, Duke’s believes this example is the preliminary version and a one-off cast.