Published date: 7 Mar 2012
Now the smoke has cleared on 2011, what has emerged with stark clarity is that Bonhams has had a superlative year. The house celebrated its tenth anniversary since its merger with Phillips with results that hit headlines around the world. In November, for instance, Bonhams sold the most expensive lotduring the Asian Art week auctions, a Qianlong vase that made £9m. There was also a triumph in Russian week when a painting by Vasilii Polenov achieved £4.1m, again the highest earning lot to be offered at London's Russian art auctions. But perhaps the painting that really captured the imagination was Velázquez's Portrait of a Gentleman, the cover image of our last issue. This oil highlighted once more the expertise of Bonhams' specialists. Found in an attic in Kent, the Old Masters department, led by Caroline Oliphant and Andrew McKenzie, brought together a formidable array of world experts to confirm that it was a work of the Spanish master. It sold in New Bond Street for £3m. For more world-beating results, turn to page 14.
Bonhams, however, is a house that prides itself on looking forward. This season marks the launch of New York's Contemporary Art department with a May sale that features Jean-Michel Basquiat's Mad, a work all the more poignant for being painted at the end of his self-destructive life. On the other side of the globe, Hong Kong also has a sale of contemporary Chinese art, featuring the modern masters, Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wuo-Ki, both of whom moved to Paris in the 1940s. It provides a intriguing insight into the fusion of traditional Chinese techniques with western art practices.
But then art and artifacts do bear witness to the past. One of the most moving items we have ever offered is Captain Scott's farewell letter, written in his tent only days before his death at the South Pole. If you have tears, prepare to shed them.
- Lucinda Bredin