Market for late 19th and early 20th century decorative arts is evolving – as are prices

Pre-Raphaelite enamel plaque – £3400 at Woolley & Wallis.

The market for European ‘decorative arts’ – the wealth of late 19th and early 20th century ceramics, metalwork and design – has been in a constant state of flux since it first entered mainstream collecting in the late 1960s. As tastes evolve, so does pricing.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Roland Arkell

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More than a third of the 495 lots at the Woolley & Wallis (25% buyer’s premium) Arts & Crafts sale in Salisbury was given over to late 19th/ early 20th century ceramics.

Martinware breather

The big name in this field for the past decade or so has been Martinware. However – despite the sale of two pieces for huge sums in New York last year – there are signs that the market is taking a breather.

Of the 45 lots offered at Salisbury on June 19, 14 failed to get away.

Private buyers ensured the success of two 1904 vases by Edwin and Walter Martin dated and stamped Martin Bros London & Southall.

A 9in (23cm) tall Aquatic vase with a swollen square section and incised to each side with fish went above hopes at £3400, while a similarly formed 9½in (24cm) tall vase modelled in low relief to each side with a grotesque bird standing among grasses made £8000.

Grotesques modelled in three-dimensional form by Robert Wallace Martin traditionally provide the best of the brothers. This sale was led by 11½in (29.5cm) tall Wise Owl model, incised RW Martin Sc, London 11 1884 to the base, which sold just below top estimate at £19,000.

There was another example of a stoneware spoon warmer in the form of a 5in (13cm) tall scaly creature with claws and gaping mouth. A similar piece took a hammer £26,000 at W&W in 2009 and another was seen being retailed at more than £30,000 two years ago.

This latest example went at a mid-estimate £16,000.

Whimsical Tinworth

Appealing to a similar type of buyer are the whimsical frog and mouse groups by George Tinworth for Doulton Lambeth.

They can be a little cheaper now than they were a decade ago. The 5in (12.5cm) tall stoneware group Playgoers, depicting a family of mice watching a Punch & Judy show, is a case in point. Back in 2009 one of these took £3000 at Woolley & Wallis. Another, with only minor chips to ears in the way of damage, was pitched here at £1500-2500 and sold to a collector at £2700.

The rarer William De Morgan (1852-1917) titles – typically unusual beasts or those with unusual lustre/ colourways – continue to draw very substantial sums. In the equivalent sale in December two 6in (15cm) square triple lustre tiles from the late Fulham Period (1888-1907) removed from a four-tile tray took £6000 and £4500. Here, a single Peacock tile from the series estimated at £1500- 2000 sold at £3500.

Christopher Dresser Propeller Clutha vase – £5500.

Among Christopher Dresser’s best-known design is the Propeller vase made in both pottery by the Ault factory and in glass by the Glasgow glassmaker James Couper for the Clutha range. An example of the latter standing 11in (28cm) high went to a Continental bidder at £5500.

Voysey choice

Charles Voysey inkstand – £7800.

Like Dresser, Charles Voysey handed over many of his designs to a trustworthy firm for execution.

He chose Thomas Elsley & Co to produce a limited output of fireplaces and domestic metalwork. One of the most eagerly contested lots in the sale was an unmarked brass desk inkwell and pen-stand to a Voysey design with riveted heart-shaped terminals. Against hopes of £800-1200 it sold to a private buyer at £7800.

A positive reaction greeted enamel panels by a late-comer to this High Victorian fashion: Eleanor Doris Varley (1902-76). Estimated at £200-300 apiece, her 6 x 3in (14.5 x 7cm) panel Enchanter, depicting a boy playing a whistle to charm wild rabbits, sold at £1900 and Sunset, a slightly larger 1927 depiction of a liner went to an American bidder at £1800.

One of the day’s surprises was the competition for a 6 x 3½in (15 x 9cm) Pre-Raphaelite enamel-on-copper panel of a kneeling angel. Unsigned, the panel, in a gilt metal frame, went to a UK dealer at £3400, nearly 10 times the mid-estimate.

Aesthetic furniture ‘in the manner of’ a notable name could be picked up for a few hundred pounds while the top-seller among the furniture was a Morris & Co sideboard or buffet designed by Philip Webb. It came with an impeccable ‘by descent’ provenance but sold on the low end of a £5000-10,000 estimate.