Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art


Sotheby’s has dominated the market for Victorian and early twentieth century art in recent years. We have the two highest prices at auction for nineteenth century British pictures - Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The Finding of Moses, which sold for almost $36 million, more than ten times its pre-sale estimate, and Alma-Tadema’s Antony and Cleopatra, which sold for just over $29 million. Figurative and narrative art has always fared very well in our sales, but there has been a steep increase in the prices achieved recently. We have held the auction record for any painting by James Tissot for over twenty years. We are proud to hold the record for any drawing, any watercolour and any oil by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti’s oil painting A Christmas Carol sold for £4,562,000, the same year that the chalk drawing Proserpine made £3,274,500 and a year later the watercolour Venus Verticordia sold for £2,882,500. We also have the auction records for watercolours, drawings and oil paintings by Simeon Solomon whose magnificent Habet! In the Coliseum sold for £370,000 in 2018. In the same sale his watercolour Bacchus made £237,500 (estimate £60,000-80,000) and In the Summer Twilight made £137,500 (estimate £30,000-50,000). Edward Burne-Jones’ watercolour The Three Marys, which had never been offered at auction before, achieved £262,000 in 2019 and in 2020 we sold St Barbara, St Dorothy and St Ursula for £855,000. A small watercolour Venus Epithalamia sold in December 2021 for £252,000 and Marie Stillman’s Gelsomina (Jasmine) sold for over three times the low estimate making £107,100.

The charm and romance of Victorian art continues to make the choice examples by the well-known artists highly collectible, as demonstrated by the sale of John William Waterhouse’ beautiful The Siren for four times the auction estimate at £3,835,800 in 2018. In the same sale John William Godward’s At the Fountain sold for the first time in over seventy years, making £370,000 and Pyrallis by the same artist more than doubled its estimate and sold for £215,000 in 2019. In the same year, a small oil painting by Tissot entitled Room Overlooking the Harbour was offered for the first time since 1933 and sold for £400,000 whilst Alma-Tadema’s watercolour Expectation made almost ten times its estimate at £142,000 (estimate £15,000-20,000). In July 2021 a small re-discovered Head of a Girl by Frederic, Lord Leighton sold for double the pre-sale estimate of £60,000-80,000. Among other highly successful results Sotheby’s has achieved all the top ten prices for John Atkinson Grimshaw at auction. In December 2021 we sold Fifty Years Ago for £239,400 (estimate £150,000-200,000).

We are also proud to dominate the market for British Impressionist artists Philip Wilson Steer, Dame Laura Knight, Sir Alfred Munnings and Sir George Clausen. In 2018 Dame Laura Knight’s famous painting The Ballet Girl and the Dressmaker was offered at auction for the first time, having been painted in 1930 and remaining in the same collection ever since – it sold for £322,000 (estimate £100,000-150,000). In December 2019 another important painting by Knight, entitled Motley and depicting another ballet scene, was offered from the same collection and sold for £200,000, double the pre-sale estimate of £100,000-150,000. In 2020 we achieved sale results that far exceeded the pre-sale estimate for Munnings, Gravel Pit in Suffolk sold for £200,000 (estimate £60,000 – 80,000), Springtime, Apple Blossom with a Mare and Foal sold for £237,500 (estimate £80,000-120,000) and in December 2021 The New Standard from the Collection of Sir Michael Smurfit sold for £302,400 (estimate £180,000 – 220,000). We have continued to transform the sales, adapting to changes in the market, attracting new buyers and growing our global reach. In 2020 we innovated the bold move to combine the Victorian and the Nineteenth Century European Paintings Departments – seeing an opportunity to make our sales more international and make British nineteenth century art known to collectors who had previously only collected European Pictures. This has proven a highly successful strategy, along with a company-wide embrace of technology which has greatly increased our exposure to an international buying audience.

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