Pick of the week
John Everett Millais was a superb pen-and-ink draughtsman and early examples, often on such social themes as ‘May and December’, are unsurprisingly expensive. It might reasonably have been thought that a 9in by 7¼in Sky Stars: Architectural Design for Window (1853) (right) would have less appeal and John Nicholson of Fernhurst, Sussex, estimated it accordingly at up to £3,000. In the event, quality, the name and a certain Blakean whimsy pushed the price to £12,400. A full-sized version made £150 at Sotheby’s Belgravia in the 1970s.
The Nicholson sale also included a pair of watercolours of Icelandic subjects by Nicholas Pococok (1740–1821) at £5,208. Another charming late-18th-century English watercolour, at £1,984, was a study of the heads of three daughters of the Duke of Marlborough, the Ladies Clancarty and Lansdown and Mary Neville, dated 1792, by Richard Cosway. It was like a Rowlandson with no hint of caricature.
in real terms perhaps not so far from the £65,000 now being asked for what could very well be the same piece of furniture in W. R. Harvey’s autumn exhibition in Witney from Saturday to November 20 (Figs 1 and 2).
The dealer has handled the piece twice before and regrets that, on each occasion, it sold too quickly for him to research it fully. The design was published by Hepplewhite’s widow in 1786 and by
another cabinet-maker, Thomas Shearer, in 1788, both some years after the newspaper description, so one of them could have been that unfortunate upholsterer.
The design remained popular for decades afterwards and it was a heavier variant, combining a chest of drawers, attributed to Gillows, of about 1820, that I illustrated here in 1997.
So far, the autumn fairs in London have been modest successes for exhibitors, with few if any major excitements. Those fairs have all been at the upper end of the market and, at the time of writing, I cannot yet report on the new TEFAF venture in New York. However, reports from the Esher Fair, from October 7 to 9, indicate that the middle market is benefiting from the collapse of sterling.
Among the overseas visitors taking advantage of the situation were four funeral directors from Ocean City, Maryland, USA, on a two-week antiques-buying spree. Chinese ceramics, Champagne glasses, clocks, 19th-century and contemporary sculpture, jewellery, silver and books are all said to have sold well.
Furthermore, there was interest in such furniture as a late-17thor early-18th-century walnut and inlaid chest of drawers sold by Melody Antiques at £6,950 (Fig 3).
For some time now, Swann Auction Galleries in New York has been positioning itself to take advantage of the abandonment by London auctioneers of middle and lower fields of collecting interest. I will look at its October 27 vintage-poster sale in a later column; in the meantime, the late-september Illustration Art sale had several results of interest to British buyers and sellers.
A 3in by 3¼in pen-and-blackink drawing of stylised roses by Aubrey Beardsley, the most elaborate of a small group of decorations for his Le Morte d’arthur (1893–4), reached $12,500 (£10,220) (Fig 5) and a similar clematis design made $9,375 (£7,664). There was also a book-trade cartoon by Ronald Searle, Spine Defective, at $5,500 (£4,497), and an 11½in by 8½in ink-and-wash design for the end boards and spine of Rudyard Kipling’s A Song of the English (1909) by Heath Robinson, sold for $3,000 (£2,452) (Fig 4).
At $52,500 (£42,923), the most expensive lot was Georges Lepape’s design, Le Miroir, for a 1927 Vogue cover.
The Steward’s Tale