The Soppy [Pounds Sterling]22 Painting That Could Sell for [Pounds Sterling]2m; COLLECTING

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), June 11, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Soppy [Pounds Sterling]22 Painting That Could Sell for [Pounds Sterling]2m; COLLECTING


Byline: LORNE SPICER

HIS poignant, romantic images have sold countless prints, posters and greetings cards, yet the name of artist John William Waterhouse is barely known to the public.

At his height he was acknowledged as one of the greats of the late pre-Raphaelite era, famed for its highly sentimentalised portrayals of themes inspired by mythology, epic poetry and medieval heroism.

But less than 50 years ago his work changed hands for only a few pounds.

Rossetti, William Morris and Burne Jones are more familiar names from the movement that Waterhouse kept alive until the First World War changed public taste for decades.

In the Fifties, when Victorian art was unpopular and seen as soppily sentimental, Waterhouse's painting of Shakespeare's tragic Ophelia was sold at auction for just [pounds sterling]22. This week the same painting may fetch as much as [pounds sterling]2 million and another of his pictures could reach a record price.

Sophie Money, head of 19th century British and European paintings at Phillips, which will auction Ophelia on Wednesday, says: 'The Fifties was the low point of appreciation of Victorian art, when you could hardly give examples away.

'By 1993 the world record for a Victorian painting stood at just [pounds sterling]419,500.

The estimate for Ophelia shows that prices, taste and the general trend have grown strongly since then.' Later on Wednesday, Saint Cecilia, another romantic study by Waterhouse, will be auctioned at Christie's.

Money says: ' It is extremely unusual, if not unheard of, to have two such stunning examples of Waterhouse's work offered in London on the same day, particularly given their importance as examples of highly romantic Victorian art that is instantly recognisable and sought-after today.' Christie's expects Saint Cecilia to break records for a Victorian work of art in its evening British art sale. It was first exhibited in 1895 when Waterhouse was 46, and became the most expensive Victorian painting when it was sold at Christie's in 1913, realising a record [pounds sterling]2,415.

It is now expected to fetch more than [pounds sterling]2.5 million - beating the record for a Victorian painting set by Christie's last year when it achieved [pounds sterling]2.09 million for Sleeping, by a more famous pre-Raphaelite, Sir John Everett Millais.

Also being auctioned at this week's Christie's sale is a pastel by the founder of the pre-Raphaelites, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. …

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