International Art Market: Super-rich tempted by Victorian values

VICTORIAN pictures tempted the super rich into the sale room last month. At Christie's, a vast Landseer painting of deer was bid to pounds 793,500 by Camilla Braka, the picture dealer, who is reputed to have bought the nine foot painting on behalf of her father, Duncan Davidson.

A highly successful property tycoon, Davidson is a keen sportsman which would explain the appeal of the Scene in Braemar, a painting reminiscent of the Monarch of the Glen - the famous Landseer of a stag on a Scottish mountain which is reproduced on Dewar's whisky labels.

The artist was Queen Victoria's favourite and specialised in animal paintings. At Sotheby's, Lord Leighton's four foot Greek Girls Picking Up Pebbles By The Sea - their classical robes flutter exotically in the wind - sold for pounds 881,500 to a telephone bidder. At the London end the bidding was conducted in Italian while Sotheby's described the purchaser as a 'US private buyer'. It is thought in the art trade that it was bought by a Mexican millionairess who has a penchant for sale-room buys - she spent pounds 1.65m on Alma-Tadema's Roses of Heliogabalus, a vast banqueting scene inundated by pink roses, at Christie's last June.

The Landseer and the Leighton both sold marginally below the auctioneers' predictions which suggests that the bidding only just scraped past the owners' reserve prices. At these price levels it is still hard to predict whether buyers will turn up on the day, despite some recovery from the worst days of recession.

Both auctioneers had difficulty moving more run-of-the-mill pictures; 30 per cent of the paintings at Sotheby's and 36 per cent of those at Christie's were left unsold.

The first major Old Masters to turn up in the Paris salerooms this year, a Canaletto view of a procession of boats on the Thames near Westminster Bridge and a big village scene by Pieter Breughel the Younger, illustrating Flemish proverbs, both proved to be overpriced for the market when they were offered at an Ader-Tajan auction last week.

The Canaletto ran out of bids at Fr9.5m ( pounds 1.1m) where the owners were looking for at least Fr10m; the Breughel had been estimated at Fr4m-6m and secured a genuine bid of Fr4.9m ( pounds 590,400) which should have sold it. The owner, however, had decided on the morning of the sale that he wanted at least Fr5m and the auctioneers had to buy the painting back for him.

In the applied arts field, the sensation of the month was the sale of Art Nouveau and Art Deco furnishings from Barbra Streisand's collection at Christie's in New York. Private collectors were prepared to pay over the odds for a memento of the singer and film star, and a Tiffany leaded glass cobweb lamp attracted a bid of dollars 717,500 ( pounds 481,544).

The gradual return of Japanese buyers for the great glassmakers of Nancy, Galle and Daum, is, however, a buoyant feature of this market. Sotheby's sold a Galle cameo vase, with blue wisteria blossoms on a yellow backround, to Japan for dollars 60,250 ( pounds 40,370) against an estimate of dollars 35,000- dollars 45,000.

(Photograph omitted)

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