ARTnewsletter Archive

Bet on Sporting Art Pays Off At Bonhams and Christie’s Sales

Offering 22 watercolours in one sale by the 19th-century Scottish bird and game artist Archibald Thorburn was seen by some observers as a test of the market.

LONDON—Offering 22 watercolours in one sale by the 19th-century Scottish bird and game artist Archibald Thorburn was seen by some observers as a test of the market. But at Bonhams sale of 19th-century paintings on July 13, the house proved there is still solid demand for this type of traditional sporting art by selling 20 of them for £897,840 ($1.4 million), compared with the estimated minimum of £450,000 ($715,000) that had been expected for the group.

The icing on the cake was a painting of a peacock in full display standing before a tiny peacock butterfly, which sold for a record £252,000 ($400,189) to a private American collector, more than double the estimate and six times the price it last fetched at auction in 1993.

The big surprise of the week, however, was for another sporting-art piece, a 14-inch bronze titled Cresta Rider by David Wynne at Christie’s sale of 20th-century British art on July 14. Wynne is perhaps best known for his precariously balanced Boy with a Dolphin sculpture on Chelsea Embankment, or for the gates designed for the Queen Mother in Hyde Park. This bronze is a maquette made for a six-foot bronze which Wynne, a Cresta rider in his younger days, made to commemorate the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club’s 100th anniversary in 1985.

Nothing by Wynne has sold for more than £35,000 at auction before and, because of its size, the diminutive figure was estimated at just £4,000 to £6,000. However, an avalanche of bids from Cresta enthusiasts sent the bidding into the stratosphere before selling to a British buyer for £109,250 ($176,000).

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