Artist who cocked a snook at British imperialism makes top price at auction

19th March 2018

A striking oil painting by Malta’s most famous artist sailed into five-figure territory when it went under the hammer at a Cotswolds auction house last week.

British Gold Explores the Mediterranean was a rebuke to English imperialism and occupation. The humorous study featured five young girls – thought to represent the daughters of the artist, Giuseppe Cali – sailing a clamshell with the spoils of war while the Royal Navy beat a hasty retreat.

The girls carried a ripped British ensign and a trident among their haul. Cali painted the work decades before Malta was granted independence.

Cali (1846 to 1930) was a prolific painter, and it is said that almost every church in Malta boasts a work of his.

Auctioneers were expecting bids of between £4,000 and £6,000 for the 1.5m wide painting, but bidding far surpassed the estimate and the hammer fell at £22,000.

The Cali was one of two paintings that led the list of top prices at Moore Allen & Innocent's sale of selected antiques on Friday, March 16.

Achieving £15,000 was Olive Grove with Sunlight in Foreground, an oil on canvas by Russian landscape realistic painter Ivan Fedorovich Choultsé (1874-1939), who emigrated to France after the revolution and died in Nice.

Known as a master of capturing light, his work is now highly sought-after, especially in Russia – the homeland to which he never returned. His olive grove exceeded the £8,000 to £12,000 estimate.

A pair of urns in the manner of the leading Late Baroque architect and furniture maker Daniel Marot proved to be one of the highlights of the sale, selling for £8,500 against an estimate of £3,000 to £5,000.

Standing at more than 70cm tall and measuring over 50cm wide, and gracing the cover of the auction catalogue, the acanthus and scrolling foliage decorated urns appeared at first sight to be stone, but were actually carved walnut. It is thought that they were originally gilded – typical of the Baroque manner of Louis XIV.

Meanwhile, a Persian Mahal carpet sold for ten times the upper estimate, with the hammer falling at £8,000. The 3.6m long carpet featured a central starburst medallion on a red ground with all over floral decoration.

And a Chinese bronzed copper censer decorated with dragons and exotic birds exceeded its £150 to £250 estimate to sell for £7,000, while an early 19th Century 49cm-wide black marble tazza in the manner of George Bullock sold for £3,200 despite chips to the rim.

In the furniture section, a Victorian Aesthetic ebonised framed armchair after a design by E W Godwin, manufactured by Gillow & Co, achieved its estimate of £3,000, while one bidder celebrated Cheltenham Gold Cup day by putting £2,600 on a Stevenson Brothers rocking horse.

Manufactured by the makers of the world’s best rocking horses, the toy – which was in A1 condition – came in dapple grey with real hair mane and tail, leather saddle, stirrups and bridle, and embroidered horse rug. Raised on an oak base, the horse stood at 147cm tall and is 172cm long.

Finally, in the week that Albert Einstein would have celebrated his 139th birthday, a first edition copy of Relativity: The Special and the General Theory sold for £1,250 against an estimate of £300 to £500.

The book was written for a non-academic market in 1916, and translated from the original German into English in 1920.

In it, Einstein aimed to offer “...an exact insight into the theory of relativity to those readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are interested in the theory, but who are not conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics.”

Translated by the English physicist Robert William Lawson, Einstein used simple real-world examples to explain the space-bending, time-stretching theories that upended 200 years of scientific thinking, and shaped the way we think about the universe for another 100.

In all, £150,000 worth of antiques were bought and sold on the day. For more information about buying or selling antiques at auction, visit www.mooreallen.co.uk/auction-house