Italian landscape with figures at the water below a castle by Robert Freebairn, £9800 at Woolley & Wallis.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

This year was no different and over the last few months a number of highlights were recorded at events staged in the regions. Here we pick out a selection of works that attracted bidders’ attention – and preview upcoming lots.

Baroque landscapes

Two Baroque landscapes drew decent competition at Woolley & Wallis’ (26% buyer’s premium) sale of Old Masters, British & European Paintings on September 5-6.

One was an atmospheric painting by Robert Freebairn (1764-1808) that was a typical combination of an Italian landscape and architectural study of an ancient site. The 23in x 2ft 7in (58 x 78cm) oil on canvas was dated 1797 and came to auction from a private collection in Yorkshire.

The artist was said to have been a pupil of the landscape painter Richard Wilson shortly before he entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1782.

He was later apprenticed to Philip Reinagle from 1782-85 before travelling to Italy and spending an extended period in Rome. His Italianate landscapes, 33 of which he exhibited at the Royal Academy, were highly regarded and some were engraved and published as prints by Johann Ziegler.

While Freebairn’s best work remains much admired, it is relatively scarce, partly on account of his early death aged 42.

Only 42 auction results are recorded on, the highest of which is the $30,000 (£15,965) for a view of a lake in Campania that sold at a New Orleans auction in 2006.

The picture in Salisbury had many of the key factors that buyers look for in this market, especially the subject of an ancient building in an arboreal landscape with water to the foreground, as well as elegant handling to the vegetation and sky.

While the building shown was not identified, bidders may well have had an idea of the location depicted. Estimated at £4000-6000, it drew three phone bidders and was knocked down at £9800 to a private collector. The sum was the third highest for the artist at auction according to Artprice.


View of the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli, catalogued as ‘attributed to Claude-Joseph Vernet’, £11,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

Another 18th century study of an Italian ruin with a landscape to the background was offered as ‘attributed to’ the French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet. Here the subject was known: the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli.

The 17 x 13½in (43 x 34cm) oil on canvas was thought to have once been owned by the painter, collector and dealer Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun (1748-1813) and, according to the auction catalogue, was ‘probably’ sold in the auction of his collection in Paris in 1791. It was offered as by Vernet at Christie’s in London in 1947 although it was unsold. Here it was consigned from a private source.

Vernet is known to have painted a number of scenes of Tivoli of which at least 16 have sold at auction in the last 25 years. One depicting the same temple as the current picture emerged at Christie’s New York in 2014 but was unsold against a hefty $200,000-300,000 estimate.

Here the estimate was a more cautious £8000-12,000, which proved tempting to a number of bidders who pursued it to £11,000 at which point it sold to the trade.

The overall hammer total for the Woolley & Wallis sale was £614,000 with 438 of the 528 lots sold (83%). Further highlights will appear in a future issue.