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.
together willing buyers and sellers, the most extraordinary
results can occur, particularly now that good progressive
salerooms are represented online, allowing worldwide
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.