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The Beautiful Art Revival: Passion for Pre-Raphaelites

Recent exhibitions fuel a rise in art market interest

By Nic Forrest Created: December 14, 2012 Last Updated: December 15, 2012
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“The Wrestling Scene in ‘As You Like It’” by Daniel Maclise, R.A. (1806–1870), oil on canvas, 1854, 50.75 by 69.75 inches. Presale estimate: 300,000–500,000 pounds (USD$481,000–$802,000). (Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012)

“The Wrestling Scene in ‘As You Like It’” by Daniel Maclise, R.A. (1806–1870), oil on canvas, 1854, 50.75 by 69.75 inches. Presale estimate: 300,000–500,000 pounds (USD$481,000–$802,000). (Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012)

For as long as I have been writing about the art market, the word “beauty” has been thought of by many as a sort of dirty word—especially to the cutting-edge contemporary art crowd, many of whom would cringe at the its mere mention.

Often perceived as being indulgent, bourgeois, and a waste of time, the pursuit of beauty in fine art has, until recently, remained somewhat of a best-forgotten quest of the frequently ill-perceived Victorian era.

There is a whiff of change in the air, however, as the art world and the art market begin to realize that beautiful art doesn’t necessarily have to be boring or bourgeois.

The exhibition Victorian Visions: Pre-Raphaelite and Nineteenth-Century Art from the John Schaeffer Collection, recently held at Leighton House Museum in London, and the current Tate Britain gallery Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avante-Guard exhibition, are testament to a revived interest in beautiful works of art.

Perhaps it is because there is more to Pre-Raphaelite art than beauty for the sake of beauty that people have changed the way they view the artistic pursuit of beauty. Tantalizing tales, subversive stares, mannerist-inspired distortions, masculine maidens, and prurient poses are all common characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite art, yet completely discordant with the definition of beauty.

“Chivalry” by Frank Dicksee P.R.A. (1853–1928), oil on canvas, 1885, 71.87 by 53.75 inches. Presale estimate: 600,000–800,000 pounds (USD$962,000–$1,283,000) (Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012)

“Chivalry” by Frank Dicksee P.R.A. (1853–1928), oil on canvas, 1885, 71.87 by 53.75 inches. Presale estimate: 600,000–800,000 pounds (USD$962,000–$1,283,000) (Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012)

As the market for Pre-Raphaelite art responds to the recent major exhibitions, artists such as Lord Frederick Leighton, John William Waterhouse, William Holman Hunt, G.F. Watts, and Solomon J. Solomon are set to become increasingly popular.

The announcement by Christie’s that two works from the collection of John Schaeffer will be offered in the sale of Victorian and British Impressionist Art on Dec. 13 is further evidence of the growing interest in art of the Victorian age, and more specifically, the work of Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Fresh from a six-month loan to Leighton House for the Pre-Raphaelite and Nineteenth-Century Art from the John Schaeffer Collection, “The Wrestling Scene in ‘As You Like It’” by Daniel Maclise R.A. (1806–1870) and “Chivalry” by Sir Francis Dicksee P.R.A. (1853–1928) are being heralded as two highlights of the Christie’s sale—“Chivalry” being on the cover of the catalog.

According to Christie’s, “‘Chivalry,’ by Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee, is one of the artist’s most attractive works and is a wonderful embodiment of late Victorian romanticism at its most theatrical and uninhibited.” Its presale estimate is 600,000–800,000 pounds (USD$962,000–$1,283,000).

“Maclise’s “The Wrestling Scene in ‘As You Like It’” is a rare illustration to Shakespeare on such a scale, and is one of the artist’s finest works,” according to Christie’s. The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1855 and depicts a wrestling match from Act I, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It.”

Estimated to fetch 300,000–500,000 pounds (USD$481,000–$802,000) in this sale, the Maclise masterpiece was last sold at auction in February 2003 when it fetched 314,650 pounds at Christie’s The Forbes Collection of Victorian Pictures and Works of Art sale.

Over the past 25 years, John Schaeffer has been one of the world’s most prominent collectors of British 19th-century art. His nearest rival, Andrew Lloyd Webber, might have the upper hand on Schaeffer when it comes to dollars spent on Pre-Raphaelite art, but Schaeffer is definitely the more passionate and devoted of the two.

Christie’s sale: Victorian and British Impressionist Art, Dec. 13, London, King Street salesroom.

Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art consultant, and writer based in Sydney and London. He is the founder of ArtMarketBlog.com and has recently been published in Fabrik, Verve, Visual Art Beat, Australian Art Collector, Art & Investment, and other magazines.

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