Christie’s are 250 years old this year. The firm jobbing London auctioneer James Christie established in December 1766 has grown to become the world’s biggest art business with sales in 2015 of £4.8bn.
The 250th anniversary celebrations include Defining British Art, a loan exhibition running at the King Street headquarters from June 17-July 15 showing works that have been handled by the auction house through the years. And a sale on June 30 of the same name promises to be the highlight of the summer season of London auctions.
Just 30 lots will be on offer but they include an intimate family portrait by Lucian Freud painted in 1992 (in the region of £18m); Golden Hours, a pivotal work of British Aestheticism by Frederic Leighton at auction for the first time in 100 years (estimate £3m-5m) and Sir Joshua Reynolds’ full-length portrait of society beauty Lucy Long, Mrs George Hardinge (estimate £2m-3m).
John Constable’s ‘six-footer’, View on the River Stour, near Dedham, from c.1821-22 is estimated ‘in the region of’ £12m-16m’. The Huntington Library in California, who have the finished canvas to this huge sketch, have been touted as a potential purchaser.
‘Curated’ sales such as this, focusing on the best works across multiple genres, are much the fashion at London’s leading auction houses.
Time was when specialist departments in areas such as ceramics and glass, silver and furniture would hold half a dozen sales or more throughout the year. Today, with the focus on quality over quantity, single-category sales are slowly disappearing in favour of cherry picked multi-discipline events.
This c.1625-30 German ivory of Saturn devouring his children is the highlight of a group of objects from the collection of former Fitzwilliam Museum director Professor Michael Jaffé (1923-97) consigned to Sotheby’s Sculpture and Works of Art sale on July 5. Attributed to the sculptor Leonhard Kern (1588-1662) whose workshop in Schwäbisch Hall specialised in the producing ivory statuettes and small reliefs, the estimate is £150,000-200,000.
In the decorative arts sphere perhaps the most opulent sales of the year are Treasures (at Sotheby’s on July 6) and The Exceptional Sale (at Christie’s on July 7). The former mixes a French royal silver tureen made by Antoine Sebastian Durant for the famous Penthièvre-Orléans table service (estimate £400,000-600,000) with a rare mahogany barograph regulator dated 1766 by Scottish instrument maker Alexander Cumming (estimate £400,000-600,000).
This pair of Sèvres blue celeste ice pails or seau à glace come from the Service aux Camées ordered by Catherine the Great of Russia c.1778. They feature in Christie’s July 6 Exceptional sale estimated at £700,000-£1m.
The latter offers a William and Mary parcel gilt chair of state with its original upholstery attributed to Thomas Roberts c.1688-89 (estimate £50,000-100,000) and an Anatolian marble female idol from the 6th millennium BC (estimate £250,000-350,000).
But some traditions continue.
The flagship sales of Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary art keep their late June slot. On June 21 Sotheby’s will offer Modigliani’s 1919 portrait of his doomed lover Jeanne Hébuterne (Au Foulard) in a private collection since 1986 estimated at up to £28m. Among the works at Christie’s on the evening of June 22 are two Picasso still lives painted on the same day. Nature morte and Nature morte aux volets verts, both completed on December 29, 1946 are each estimated at £2-3m.
An early self-portrait by William Dobson (1611-1646) is among the highlights of Bonhams’ Old Masters sale in New Bond Street. The estimate is £200,000-300,000.
Self-portraits by two greats of English 17th century art appear for sale on July 6. An early self-portrait by William Dobson (1611-1646) is among the highlights of Bonhams’ Old Masters sale in New Bond Street. Dobson, who was appointed the court limner following Anthony van Dyck’s death in 1641, paints himself in a black tunic and white collar. The estimate is £200,000-300,000.
Chalk self-portrait of Sir Peter Lely from Sotheby’s evening Old Master sale estimated at £600,000-800,000.
Sotheby’s evening Old Master sale of the same day will offer three chalk portrait drawings by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680). These include a self-portrait made in the late 1650s estimated at £600,000-800,000 plus those of the artist’s son, John (estimate £80,000-120,000) and his wife, Ursula (estimate £6000-8000). Drawn by Lely in his mid-30s to be enjoyed in the family home in Covent Garden, they have remained with the artist’s direct descendants for over three and a half centuries.
Old Masters too are the centrepiece of Sotheby’s Christie’s and Bonhams’ contribution to London Art Week, the marketing umbrella title for a series of dealer exhibitions, tours and late-night openings in Mayfair and St James’s running from July 1-8 (preview June 30). The most traditional of art markets has struggled to be heard in the recent clamour for 20th and 21st century pictures, but 2016 brings some undoubtedly blue-chip consignments.
The Capture of Havana, Cuba, 1762: The taking of the town by British forces under the command of the Earl of Albemarle, 14 August 1762 is estimated to bring £800,000-1.2m at Sotheby’s on July 6. It is one of four canvases by Dominic Serres on the market for the first time in almost 250 years.
On July 6 Sotheby’s will offer four of the earliest views of Havana painted by Dominic Serres between 1770-75 to mark the siege and capture of the city in 1762. There were made either for General George Keppel, 3rd Earl of Albemarle or for his brother, Admiral Augustus Keppel, who both played a decisive role in the British victory.
Unseen on the market for almost 250 years, the quartet have remained in the possession of the Keppel family ever since they were painted. They will be offered separately at prices between £200,000-300,000 and £800,000-1.2m.
Christie’s, sometimes thought to have lost momentum in this category, have Lot and his Daughters, a fleshy canvas by Peter Paul Rubens painted in Antwerp between 1613-14. Given to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough in 1706 by the Holy Roman Emperor as a trophy in gratitude for the victories at Blenheim and Ramilies, it is being sold by the descendants of Baron Maurice Hirsch de Gereuth on July 7 with expectations ‘in excess of £20m’. Could the artist’s record – the landmark £45m for Massacre of the Innocents at Sotheby’s in 2002 – be broken?
Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions are marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter with a sale on July 28. The core of the sale is the collection formed by John Cawood, a resident of the Lake District and member of the Beatrix Potter Society. His rare chromolithograph Christmas card with a Potter illustration of two mice in a coconut, printed c.1890, is estimated at £600-800.
Of course, far more affordable fare is on offer in the capital’s independent salesrooms – Roseberys, Chiswick Auctions and Hampstead Auctions to name but three – while firms such as Thomas Del Mar (antique arms and armour on June 29) and Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions (a Beatrix Potter 150th anniversary sale on July 28) are the place to go for specialist collecting. It’s not just about the ‘big three’.