Archibald Thorburn Paintings Collection Auctioned at Bonhams

An outstanding collection of works by Archibald Thorburn sold for fantastic prices in the 19th Century Paintings auction at Bonhams New Bond Street On Wednesday 13 July. A new world record for the artist was made with the highlight of the collection – the magnificent Peacock and Peacock Butterfly fetched £252,000, more than doubling it’s pre-sale estimate of £80,000-120,000. The previous record for a Thorburn work was £217,250 for Grouse in Flight which sold at Christie’s in June 2010.

At 87.5 x 111.5cm Peacock and Peacock Butterfly is one of the largest of Thorburn’s paintings, and it shows a great peacock proudly displaying his extravagant plumage, in contrast to the delicate and beautifully detailed peacock butterfly in the foreground. Hugh Gladstone wrote in Thorburn’s obituary in the Scottish Naturalist, January 1936, “of all his pictures…the most daring was a gigantic one…of a peacock in full display in front of a red rhododendron in full bloom; a gorgeous sunset and woodland as the background…I remember the whole as a riot of colour…both magnificent and accurate.” Thorburn later recalled how he had nightmares of endlessly painting the ‘eyes’ on the peacock tail feathers.

Also proving popular with bidders was Danger aloft – Ptarmigan. The scene depicts nine ptarmigan seeking shelter on a hillside while storm clouds gather in the distance. Outstripping its pre-sale estimate of £70,000-100,000 it finally sold for £156,000.

Charles O’Brien, Head of 19th Century Pictures at Bonhams comments, “We were delighted with the strength and depth of bidding in the auction and the worldwide interest that the catalogue generated. The success of this sale proves that the market for good quality 19th Century works, whilst selective, is still very strong for the right image. In particular the meticulous detail and accuracy in Thorburn’s ornithological works have always appealed to buyers and we are thrilled that the stunning Peacock and Peacock Butterfly fetched such a good price and set a new record for the artist.”

Other highlights of the sale included Franz Richard Unterberger’s Grande Canal, Venise (£98,400). A beautiful portrait by Sir James Jebusa Shannon of Estelle proved popular with bidders and smashed its pre-sale estimate of £15,000-20,000 to finally sell for £96,000. Another portrait which attracted much interest was At The Beach – Portrait of Martha Salomon. by Isaac Israels (Dutch, 1865-1934) which sold for £132,000 (estimate £80,000-120,000).

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