Auction success

Lyon & Turnbull brings hammer down on record year

Gavin Strang: opening up the market

Fine art auctioneer Lyon & Turnbull has hailed 2021 its best year yet as the company reported sales of more than £26m, an 88% increase on pre-pandemic income, and a number of world records set for artworks and artefacts.

Thousands of people are taking part in auctions, with the firm’s swift move to live online auctions at the onset of the pandemic resulting in a sharp rise – 15% – in the number of new buyers since 2020.

The sale of private collections proved a particular success; more than 30 of these were offered throughout the year from country house to modern art and institutional during the course of 2021.

In May, a rare 14th century French Gothic casket from Tornaveen House, Aberdeenshire, achieved a world record and became the most valuable artwork sold at auction in Scotland at £1,455,000. Featuring intricately carved scenes from medieval literature, it went for thirty times more than the asking price of £50,000.

Later in the year an exquisite 16th century Italian maiolica dish, made in the city of Urbino and depicting a Biblical scene, was one of the items found tucked away in a drawer by one of L&T’s experts as part of its sale of the contents of Lowood House in Melrose on the banks of the River Tweed.

It sold for £1,263,000; bidding started at £80,000. The price marked another world record for this type of early, elaborate pottery.

The amount achieved for a rare drawing by Dame Barbara Hepworth was also unprecedented for a work by the renowned mid-20th century artist. It was given as a wedding present to her fellow artist and friend Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in 1949 when she married the poet David Lewis.

Auctioned on behalf of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, the ‘double nude’ drawing, Figure and Mirror, sold for nearly £500,000 (£471,000) in autumn 2021.

As 2021 drew to a close a collection of five paintings by the acclaimed Scottish Colourist, Samuel John Peploe, sold for more than £1m at the company’s flagship Scottish Paintings & Sculpture auction.

During 2021 the average lot values across all specialist categories increased by 75%.

Lyon & Turnbull, established in Edinburgh in 1826, is Scotland’s oldest auction house. It now holds more than 42 auctions a year throughout the UK.

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Gavin Strang, managing director of Lyon & Turnbull, said: “There is no doubt that our online auctions have opened up the marketplace, creating many more opportunities for potential buyers and sellers internationally.

“It’s been extremely exciting to see so many people participating and to have made so many world records.

“This year has already got off to a flying start with the sale of a letter bearing Mary Queen of Scots’ handwriting making, not only news around the world, but £32,500, more than double the asking price [£14,000].

“That fact that you can bid from your armchair, wherever that happens to be, has undoubtedly made, and continues to make a huge difference to sales.”

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