News-Antique.com - Jul 08,2010 - Following the sale of the Koch collection in 1993, the next major sale of a collection of Victorian paintings came in 2003 when the Forbes collection was auctioned by Christie’s over a two day period. The Forbes collection, considered one of the 20th century’s most important collections of Victorian art, was put together by Malcolm and Christopher Forbes of the Forbes Magazine family. Malcolm and his son Christopher began the collection after Christopher made the comment to his father that, for the price of a minor Monet hanging on the wall of his office, he could assemble one of the world’s great collections of Victorian art. Malcolm, a lover of bargains and challenges, liked the sound of this idea and so, with his son Christopher, began collecting. Malcolm Forbes died in 1990 leaving his son with the collection that they had both had put together with passion over a thirty year period.
Unfortunately for Christopher, a family squabble is rumoured to have meant that the collection needed to be sold, even though Christopher was quoted as saying at the time that he would not attend the sale because “it would be too sad.” Among the numerous outstanding works that were included in the sale were John Martin’s Pandemonium; Sir Edwin Henry Landseer’s ‘Scene in Chillingham Park: Portrait of Lord Ossulston’ or ‘Death of the Wild Bull’; John Phillip’s Early Career of Murillo; Dicksee’s Chivalry; and W.H. Deverell’s masterpiece, Twelfth Night. The sale was a huge success, especially considering the poor market sentiment at the time, with 75% of the works finding new homes for a sale total of 16.9 million pounds. Most exciting of all was the 63 artist auction records set during the sale for artists such as Henry Herbert La Thangue, Sir Edward Landseer and John Martin.
There is no doubt that the success of the sale was bolstered significantly by the association with a famous family – an association that Christie’s took full advantage of. A large contingent of buyers from the Continent, who would usually not be interested in the work of Victorian British paintings, indicated that the Forbes name was a big draw-card. Regardless of the fact that many of the buyers were motivated to a large degree by the provenance of the paintings, the success of the sale and the associated publicity gave the market for Victorian art a major boost. The Forbes sale was a huge milestone for Victorian paintings and paved the way for what was to be a slow but steady revival for Victorian art.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications