AUCTION REPORT: Bonhams bows out

This May will be remembered in the stringed instruments auction world for the final act of a venerable London player, and perhaps more for what didn’t sell than for what did. Benjamin Jones reports

Vuillaume cello Amati May 14

The Vuillaume cello of 1846 sold by Amati this month

Bonhams held what turned out to be its last musical instruments sale on 11 May, with confirmation just days later that longtime department head Philip Scott was leaving the company and that the department would close. The sale’s star lot – an Italian violin long ascribed to Maggini but more likely made by one of his followers – failed to sell. This was despite a strong provenance, which includes the Florentine violinist and teacher Gabriele Piozzi in the late 18th century, the Genoese aristocrat and collector the Marquis Doria, and latterly the Belgian virtuoso Edith Volckaert, who died aged just 42 in 1992. Instead, a Lorenzo Ventapane violin from circa 1830 emerged as the top lot, bringing in a respectable £41,875 on an estimate of £20,000–£25,000. Bonhams also couldn’t repeat its October 2014 feat of selling a complete quartet of modern instruments in a single lot: whereas last autumn’s 1969 set by Cesar Castelli fetched £32,500, there were no takers this time for a quartet by Aldo Zani from Cesena.

In New York, a Stradivari violin at Tarisio received no bids. With a guide estimate of $2,200,000–$3,500,000, it was nowhere near Tarisio’s greatest-ever Strad offering – the ‘Lady Blunt’ – in terms of original condition: the lower treble rib had been replaced and the head was by Venetian maker Francesco Gobetti. The lack of interest in this instrument left an 1841 Pressenda violin topping the results, fetching $292,500 on an estimate of $250,000–$400,000. Two cellos followed in its wake: one by Carlo Giuseppe Oddone from 1927, which made $177,000, and the other a mid-18th-century instrument attributed to Montagnana, which sold for $168,000. Elsewhere, there was keen bidding for the top bow lot, a silver-mounted Eugène Sartory violin bow, which was estimated at $18,000–$25,000 but went for $45,000.

Back in London, Amati had more success with its own prized lot, an 1846 Vuillaume cello, which made £148,800, a good measure above its £120,000 upper estimate. The next highest lots, in what was one of Amati’s smaller sales, were an Alfred Joseph Lamy silver-mounted cello bow, which fetched £11,780, and a Jacob Fendt violin from around 1840, which sold for £11,160.

In the week before May, Boston-based Skinner held a 400-lot sale, where the top lots included an 1841 cello by Charles François Gand, selling for $55,350, and a modern Italian violin by Gaetano Sgarabotto, which went for $40,590.

All sale prices quoted include buyer’s premium.

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