July 2019 Sale Report

 

POETRY IN MOTION

 

Auctions have been part of the business world for centuries, bringing together buyers and sellers and allowing a market place for the most diverse of objects to be traded. There is practically nothing that cannot be bought or sold by this method.  Bringing together willing buyers and sellers, the most extraordinary results can occur, particularly now that good progressive salerooms are represented online, allowing worldwide participation.

Just such a situation was witnessed in this month’s sale at Wotton-under-Edge, when a small portrait by a relatively unknown artist was sent to the rooms for sale.  The painter was one William Shuter, who worked around the 1770/1800 period - an obscure but decent working artist, whose paintings usually sell for around the low to mid hundreds.   Throw into that several further ingredients and the whole situation becomes more intriguing.   Firstly, the sitter, in this case Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772-1834, one of the best known of the British romantic poets of the late 18th/early 19th century.  Secondly, to the back of the picture was attached a handwritten note by Richard Poole King, noting that the portrait was painted at Nether Stowey, where Coleridge rented a cottage from 1797 to around 1799/1800.  The cottage was owned by Richard Poole King’s uncle Thomas Poole who was both a friend and benefactor to Coleridge.  Now at this period, Coleridge was closely collaborating on the Lyrical series of poems with his close friend William Wordsworth, who lived just three miles away at Alfoxton Park.  Intriguingly, further research showed that the portrait bore a very strong stylistic resemblance to a portrait of Wordsworth which is held in the Cornell University Library collection in America, also by William Shuter.  The same chair was noticed in each portrait, creating an exciting suspicion that both poets were painted in quick succession as part of a joint commission.

The note on the back of the portrait also alluded to a visit around 1850 by Derwent Coleridge (the third son of Coleridge) who, upon seeing the portrait, pronounced it to be the best likeness of his father extant.  Finally, an engraving of the portrait had been used as the frontispiece for the 1852 edition of the Works of Coleridge, but the whereabouts of the original portrait was described by the National Portrait Gallery as unknown.

So, briefly the facts - a relatively unknown artist whose paintings sell for a few hundred pounds, a very famous sitter, the portrait judged to be the best known likeness of the poet, almost certainly a pair to a portrait of Wordsworth in an American museum and, to all intents and purposes,  a lost portrait showing the young poet at the height of his powers. 

So, how do you market an object like this?  With the background of the picture seemingly water tight (and, at this point, particular mention should go here to Julia Fry, head of the picture department for her lengthy and scholarly findings) -  you can begin to promote the work with some confidence, by contacting the relevant worldwide museums and galleries who are interested in this particular man and his work.  You then forward articles to newspapers, local and national, as well as trade publications and wait for things to happen.  Word circulates amongst the literary world of this discovery; appointments are made with interested parties who need to satisfy themselves that this is a true and genuine work, perhaps booking a telephone line in expectation, but that is about all that happens and we still have little idea of its value.

On the sale day three telephone lines are booked, not an unusual event and we have capacity for more.  We begin to move through the sale, eventually reaching lot 650 during the mid-afternoon.  From the rostrum we scan the room for new buyers – true, there are one or two unfamiliar faces and the most likely candidate keeps fiddling with his phone, with others seemingly totally uninterested and reading a newspaper.  The lot is announced, bids are sought, £500 is offered by the man with newspaper and we are off! The phone fiddler bids £550 and we have an auction, this saga continues for several minutes, the increments increase as the price rises, £1,000 bids are now sought and given, the price continues to rise, the man with the newspaper drops out, the bid is held by his competitor in the room, the phones are asked to come in, two fail to do so, feeling the price is already too rich, the third phone however adds another bid and it continues a short while longer.  The phone is eventually beaten, the price is once again held by the room, the gavel is raised, final warning announced, the gavel drops and the picture is sold, £51,000 is taken, the room cheers and we move on to the next lot.

This, however, was just one lot in a 1300 lot sale, with the usual huge variety on offer. Internet business was strong with bids being taken from across the globe. 

Amongst the furniture a set of 12 William IV mahogany dining chairs by James Winter & Son realised £4,000 and a pair of cabinets by Waring & Gillow sold at £1,850.  An oak longcase clock by Simon D E Charmes of London made £1,500.

Jewellery and silver again saw practically every lot sold, including good Art Deco emerald and diamond ring in platinum which made £1,700.

Some of the more unusual lots included a pair of 19th century Cantonese circular hand fans/face screens with painted detail which sold for £1,300.

Entries for the next sale are now being received into the rooms and will include several probate instructions. It already appears to be a large and wide-ranging auction.

 

 


19th Century Cantonese circular fans
Sold for £1,300

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Painting
Sold for £51,000

Art Deco emerald and diamond ring
Sold for £1,700