But auctioneers are now finding Victorian paintings in the under-pounds 5,000 range difficult to sell. It is clearly a rich man's playground. What chances for the likes of us, apart from sinking our money at the soggy end?
Christie's has gone easy on the estimate for Leighton's huge, gold-ground mural triptych of three classical dancers that he painted for the home of Percy and Madeline Wyndham - rich art patrons who were involved with the intellectual social set, The Souls. If the estimate is correct, you could buy the triptych for the price of a Wiltshire farm dwelling: pounds 20,000- pounds 30,000.
Again, if estimates are to be believed, you would do well to raise a loan and bid the pounds 10,000-pounds 15,000 estimated in the sale (Friday, 10.30am), for the artist Edward Burne-Jones' album of 80 charming drawings, including several little-known caricatures of William Morris. Even before being reproduced on T-shirts for the V&A, similar delightful Burne-Jones caricatures of his bosom chum, "Topsy" - shown boring him with his poetry, in the bath, or weaving tapestry - were being touted in the trade for pounds 9,000 each.
A folio of 22 drawings of Queen Victoria herself, aged three, has the unlikely low estimate of pounds 2,000-pounds 3,000 at Christie's South Kensington on Wednesday (10.30am). The Queen-to-be is shown playing with the daughter of the artist, Lady Heathcote. She is a queer-looking child with a wan smile.
Right at the bottom of the Victorian picture market - why not have a punt on an artist that, unknown to the public, Queen Victoria championed: Gabrielli Carelli. His watercolour Palm Trees at Algiers has a rock-bottom pounds 400-pounds 600 estimate in the same sale. Sotheby's Victorian pictures sale is well stocked with Leighton, Poynter and Tissot: Wednesday (11am).
Last year's ground-breaking Visions of India sale at Christie's was a sensation, with 92 per cent sold by value. The second, with 396 lots, Wednesday (10.30am), is the fattest sale of the week. It includes 17 drawings of India by Thomas Daniell (d.1840) and his nephew William. Their book, Oriental Scenery, was consulted by the Edwardian British when restoring Indian monuments. Daniell prices doubled estimate last year. This year there is virtually nothing of theirs estimated under pounds 1,200. Keep your eyes skinned for Daniells - but not necessarily at the big London auction houses.
John WindsorReuse content