LONDON—Sotheby’s broke with a 43-year tradition on Sept. 30 by moving its summer sale of Scottish art from the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland to London. A backdrop of rising costs and lower-than-expected sales prompted the move, along with Sotheby’s assessment that the event attracted overseas bidding for the top lots, which would not be affected by the change in location.
The London sale was attended by a far thinner crowd than was usual in the party-going atmosphere of Gleneagles, but with the help of some telephone bidding, most of the top lots sold, though some were dangerously close to their low estimates. The sale realized a total of £3.4million ($5.4million) against an estimate of £4million/6million, down from the two previous Gleneagles sales, which brought £5.2million ($10.5million) in 2007 and £4.9million ($9million) last year.
Of the 157 lots offered, 68, or 43 percent, went unsold. Nonetheless, Andre Zlattinger, Sotheby’s head of Scottish pictures, maintained that “our decision to hold our sales in London is a very positive move for the Scottish market,” adding that “we saw bidding at the sale from as far afield as North America, the Middle East and the Far East.”
Christie’s, meanwhile, has stopped holding specialized sales of Scottish art, channeling the works into its auctions of Victorian, modern British and Old Master and 19th-century European art. The Sotheby’s sale has therefore become the main focus for the Scottish market.
All but two of the top ten lots were works by the Scottish Colorists. Samuel John Peploe’s Red and Pink Roses, Oranges and Fan, 1920s, estimated at £300,000/500,000, was the catalogue cover lot. The work brought the top price of £421,250 ($676,696) from dealer Richard Green, underbid by London dealer Alon Zakaim in the room, who was bidding for a client. Green said afterwards that the painting should have made half a million pounds, and so he was happy with his acquisition.
Two smaller Peploe still lifes with roses went to the same phone buyer, whom Sotheby’s described simply as “international.” Both just met expectations, selling for £301,250 ($483,928) on an estimate of £250,000/350,000 and £217,250 ($348,990) on an estimate of £200,000/300,000. Zakaim bid successfully on Lady Lavery in Black, an elegant portrait by Francis Cadell, acquiring it for his client for £121,250 ($194,776) on an estimate of £100,000/150,000. Among the Primroses, 1887, a small, sketchy panel by the sitter’s husband, John Lavery, who is often classified as an Impressionist, was one of the few paintings to double estimates, selling for £27,500 ($44,000) to private dealer Charles Payne (estimate: £8,000/12,000).
Aside from the Colorists, the highest prices came for the Postwar artist Anne Redpath, whose vibrant still life Summer Gaiety, ca. 1947, sold close to the artist’s record for £139,250 ($223,691) on an £80,000/120,000 estimate, and for the contemporary painter Jack Vettriano, whose contre-jour portrait The Very Thought of You only narrowly sold for £145,250 ($233,330) against an estimate of £120,000/180,000.
Vettriano has been a staple of these sales since 2004, when his Singing Butler sold for £744,500 ($1.3 million). However, his market has lost some of its bounce lately, and of the 14 works offered, only five sold. One of the works that did sell was Daytona Diner, which was bought by art adviser Susannah Pollen for £73,250 ($120,000) on an estimate of £60,000/80,000.