The Forbes collection: Victorian paintings to stage a comeback in February



Christie’s is to sell the Forbes collection of Victorian pictures and works of art in what promises to be one of the key artmarket events of early 2003 art market. More than 360 lots will go up for sale on 19-20 February and estimates point to a turnover of nearly USD35 million. That said, the Victorians had an exceptionally poor year on the auction floor in 2002. Sales were USD27.7 million compared to 58.8 million two years previously, when the movement’s popularity was at its height, and a succession of record prices helped push the school’s average price up by 35%.

At the London sale on 14 June that year, bidders set an all-time record for a painting by John William WATERHOUSE. His St Cecilia, “in a clear walled city on the sea, near gilded organ pipes…” was finally knocked down for GBP6 million. At the same sale another record was broken when Dante Gabriel ROSSETTI’s pastel portrait of Pandora went under the hammer for GBP2.4 million. Since then, except for a few fine sales in 2001, enthusiasts have had little opportunity to challenge for Victorian works.
In what is an essentially British market —72% of the 2002 turnover was bid at London houses— only 1,629 Victorian lots were put up for auction last year. And of these, some had little to recommend them, hence the 35% buy-in rate. In 2002, the number of lots sold was half that in 2000. But while collectors were letting the lesser works go, they were still bidding hotly for the best pieces and driving the index upward. Having slipped in 2001, prices for the Victorians are now in line with 2000. EUR100 invested in a Victorian painting in 1993 would be worth EUR250 in January 2002.

So the Forbes sale arrives at an opportune moment, following the dearth of supply that blighted 2002. The lots are varied and high quality. Many of the big names are there — Dante Gabriel ROSSETTI, James Jacques Joseph TISSOT, John Everett MILLAIS, etc— as well as some lesser-known artists. And all price ranges and all strands of Victorian painting are represented. The works to go on sale will be available for viewing from 11 February at Christie’s King Street.