Published:  12:47 AM, 20 July 2017

The British art market gears up for Brexit

The Weary Moon by Edward Robert Hughes R.W.S

Values in Victorian art have generally been downgraded since fashion swung to the modern. At Sotheby's Victorian sale last week, for example, two paintings of toga-clad women by the Aesthetic movement artist Albert Moore, which sold to a Japanese buyer in the 1989/90 boom for £62,000 and £91,000, found no takers even at £24,000 each. But the sale had its moments. Dante Gabriel Rossetti's more seductive watercolor of the languorous, red haired beauty, Lady Lilith, which went to Japan in 1988 for £115,000, saw a better return, selling for £680,500.

Portrait of Miss Herbert by Dante Gabriel Rossett

Pre-Raphaelites are generally outperforming the rest of the Victorian market, as are pictures of attractive women. The anonymous UK buyer of Lady Lilith went on to outbid art adviser Wentworth Beaumont with a double-estimate £187,500 bid for a drawing of another of Rossetti's pouting 'stunners', and pay a record £90,000 for a watercolor of an alluring sea nymph by Arthur Hopkins, the brother of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Most competition at the sale came for The Weary Moon, a symbolistic watercolor of a curled-up female nude drenched in silver and gold in a star-studded sky by Edward Robert Hughes, the not too well-known nephew of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Arthur Hughes. The painting was last sold in 1989 for £9,000. Last week it attracted the attention of collector Isabel Goldsmith, daughter of the late Sir James Goldsmith, who chased it from the £30,000 estimate until it was hers for £115,000.

At Christie's, Rod Stewart's collection of mostly dowdy damsels all sold, but not, apart from some Asian snapshot souvenir hunters, to the kind of rapturous reception he is used to on stage. His star lot, John William Waterhouse's romantic rendition of Boccaccio's tale of Isabella and the Pot of Basil, for instance, was knocked down below its optimistic £1 million estimate. The unexpected ace in his hand was a heart wrenchingly beautiful Ophelia by minor French artist, Jean-Baptiste Bertrand, that quadrupled estimates to sell for £97,500.

These two sales, which included British Impressionists, were dominated by British buyers, but Edward Seago's normally popular windswept Suffolk views and French ports, favorites with the Royal Family and professional classes in Britain, were underperforming as were lovable dog paintings by Alfred Munnings, Briton Riviere and John Emms. Are these signs that middle England is feeling a post-Brexit pinch?

Art market gears up: A meeting to be staged this afternoon by the British Art Market Federation in the presence of the Heritage Minister, John Glen, will attempt to draw the government's attention to the art market's importance to the British economy and to the opportunities that will arise to improve its contribution when Britain leaves the EU. The art market, the BAMF calculates, currently provides an estimated 41,700 knowledge intensive jobs in the UK, and a further 94,710 jobs in ancillary businesses such as insurance, shipping and restoration.

Its fiscal contribution to the Exchequer through taxes and levies was an estimated £1.46 billion in 2016. It is also a major contributor to cultural tourism which accounts for 40 per cent of the tourism sector. The extent of these benefits relates to Britain's status as one of the three leading global market hubs, along with the US and China. To maintain that position it needs to attract the best quality works for sale from around the world, and to that end, the BAMF is lobbying to abolish the 5 per cent import VAT on works of art, imposed by the EU's Seventh Directive.

"Last year, the charge raised only £49 million in net revenue," says BAMF's executive chairman, Anthony Browne. Abolishing the tax, he argues, would stimulate consignments from abroad, and therefore the economy. Further issues on the agenda are the maintaining of high standards of overseas employment as befits a global industry and the removal of the artist's resale royalty charge which diverts sales of modern and contemporary art abroad.


The writer is a contributor for  www.telegraph.co.uk

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