Senior Valuer Alexander Clement takes a look at the top lots and headline stories of 2023
It can't be overstated that Halls Fine Art have enjoyed an action-packed year in 2023. In many ways it has been transformative with changes to the usual auction programme that herald exciting things for the following year and beyond. With more than twenty events including auctions and exhibitions, we've been busy handling thousands of objects and reaching across the globe to find bidders eager to compete for them. Looking back over the year, each season has brought us incredible highlights with results that make all that hard work worthwhile.
Our March auction of Books, Manuscripts and Autographs included a signed letter by English essayist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Written on 17 March 1783, the letter asks the unnamed recipient if they might help find employment for a friend skilled as a clerk. Halls' vendor had bought the letter at a Sotheby's auction in 1966, intent on keeping it from going abroad, mindful of the likely interest from the Donald & Mary Hyde collection in the United States. With an estimate of £,3000-5,000 it was sure to generate wide interest and with bidding on the telephone against commissions and online activity, the hammer finally fell at £13,200 (+fees).
Our auction of Fine Art, Antiques and Jewellery, also in March, enjoyed a number of impressive results including a superb silver gilt wine cooler which achieved £8,000 (+fees), a painting of Stronachlacher loch by Alfred de Breanski realising £11,000 (+fees) and a Chaumet simulated shagreen evening bag that had once belonged to former Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher which sold for £7,000 (+fees).
With glorious weather came glorious prices for our summer offerings. These included £6,000 for a two stone diamond cross-over ring and £5,200 for Peter de Wint's view of Lincoln Cathedral, both sold on 21 June.
Among the fascinating items on offer in our Timed Militaria auction in July was a General Service 1793-1814 Medal with eleven clasps awarded to Quartermaster Joshua Stubbs, 48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment of Foot, from the Peninsular War. A rare medal in high demand which broke through its top estimate to achieve £5,600 (+fees).
The Asian Art auction in November included an unusual Japanese cloisonne vase by the master maker Namikawa Yasuyuki, the shape and colour being atypical of his work. Unsurprisingly the vase was hotly contested with the hammer finally falling at £11,000 (+fees) to an online bidder.
In the same month, our Books, Stamps and Coins auction included another literary gem. This time a small archive of letters from the Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) consigned from a Shropshire deceased estate. The lot raced away to achieve ten times its estimate, selling for £8,000
Rounding the year off, our 6 December Fine Art, Antiques and Jewellery auction was the biggest and the best of all our events. Here we showcased the Ivor Southorn collection of porcelain which included a plate from the famous Raphael service made for the Russian Royal Family which sold for £9,500 (+fees). Equally opulent was a Cartier diamond set Art Deco brooch in its original box which also sold for £9,500 (+fees). But the star lot was an extraordinary bronze figure Frederick Edward McWilliam CBE RA (Irish 1909-1992) from his 'Women of Belfast' series of 1972. Estimated at £25,000-30,000, the figure was well contested with telephone bidders, taking the hammer price up to £37,000 (+fees).
The Halls brand has always been one that strives for the best service while remaining approachable and welcoming to all. With a team of specialists, administrators and support staff that all, without exception, love their work and enjoy the excitement of fine art auctions, we are able to bring top-drawer service and expertise to your doorstep. That means your prized possessions get the attention they deserve and a platform that reaches across the global art market. And in 2023 we took another step towards our goal of giving our clients the best we possibly can. By hosting auctions focussed on specialist disciplines, we have been able to concentrate buyer activity and generate better results for our sellers. This work will continue into 2024 with what we hope will be an attractive portfolio of events to entice an ever increasing audience.