The particular combination of landmarks depicted also has a significant effect.
An 18th century view of Oxford that appeared at Sloane Street Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) in London on June 29 drew notable attention in no small part thanks to the presence of buildings such as the Radcliffe Camera, Magdalen tower, St Mary’s church, not to mention the panoramic view of the southern edge of Christ Church meadow.
The 2ft 3in x 4ft (69cm x 1.23m) oil on canvas was signed Thos Smith. The artist Thomas Smith of Derby (c.1720-67) was a self taught painter who mostly produced English topographical landscapes.
Little is known about his life but a number of his works are now in public collections including a fine river landscape owned by Derby Museums.
He also produced a series of engravings depicting views of Derbyshire and Yorkshire, as well as another set relating to racehorses. He was the father of John Raphael Smith (1751-1812) and the miniaturist Thomas Corregio Smith. His daughter Sophia also became an artist.
He is thought to have met and absorbed the styles and practices of itinerant Italian and Netherlandish artists - something evinced by the light sourcing and treatment of trees and foliage in the current work.
His pictures rarely appear at auction although one large painting of a hunting party with a pack of hounds has twice sold at Sotheby’s for £58,000, once in 2001 and again in 2007. The sum remains the highest price for the artist.
This view of Oxford, which had once been in a US collection, previously sold at Bonhams in July 2021 where it fetched £13,000 (or £16,500 with premium).
Offered two years on with a higher £25,000-30,000 pitch, it commanded a significantly stronger price as it was knocked down at £41,000 to a private British collector.
The sum, the third highest for Thomas Smith at auction according to Artprice.com, was one of a number of lots that helped lift the sale total to £721,580 (including premium) from 387 lots - a notable figure for an auction house that has only been in operation for a year and a half.
Another such lot was A Bengal Tiger by Thomas Landseer (1795-1880), a painting which was recently rediscovered and sold again to a private buyer at £50,000.
According to the catalogue, the 3ft 10in x 5ft (1.17 x 1.51m) oil on canvas was probably made in preparation for an etching for the print series Characteristick Portraits of Animals published in 1829, although the final print has a second tiger added.
It featured nail marks around the edges of the canvas which might suggest that Landseer pinned the picture up in his studio as he worked on the etching. The animal itself was thought to be that housed in the menagerie at King’s Mews in London, now the site of the National Gallery.
The price, although at the lower end of the £50,000-80,000 estimate, represents a record for the artist in part due to the fact that few oil paintings like this by Landseer have ever emerged.
Elsewhere at the Chelsea sale, a decent price was recorded for a Rembrandt (1606-69) etching. It came to auction along with a large group of other Old Master works on paper from a vendor whose aristocratic grandfather was an avid collector.
The 4¼ x 4in (11 x 10cm) etching had a watermark with a coat of arms and was deemed a clear and clean impression of the second-state of this particular self portrait.
Estimated at £3000-5000, it drew a competition between two phone bidders, one from Germany and the other from the US, before it sold to the former at £13,000.
Landseer No 2
While the above-mentioned tiger painting set a record for Thomas Landseer, a bidding battle broke out earlier in the month for an unusual work by his younger brother Charles Landseer (1799-1879).
Measuring 9¾ x 7¾in (25 x 20cm), the portrait titled The Greek Girl emerged at Hutchinson Scott (25% buyer’s premium) in Skipton, North Yorkshire on June 6. It was a rare oil painting on tin and, according to an inscription on the back, the image had been engraved although ATG could not trace any copies of the print.
Estimated at £200-300, the portrait drew a lively competition and was knocked down at £4200 to an online buyer - a decent sum for a work of this size.