The tale of two Bellanys and a 40 year old shirt

Arguably the most significant auction price ever achieved for an artwork by Scottish titan John Bellany CBE, RA

‘The Finnon Smoker’ by John Bellany was sold in The Scottish Contemporary Art Auction at McTear's on 29 May for £80,000 (hammer). This stunning result has only been bettered by one other Bellany work, "Fishermen in the Snow" which is almost exactly double the size (of The Finnon Smoker) and was sold by Sotheby's in 2016 as part of the David Bowie art collection.

The results generally in the Bowie auction were ‘unbelievable’ and dozens of world auction records were obliterated as the provenance of being previously owned by a global superstar added a massive uplift to prices throughout the catalogue. The Bowie viewing was  attended by record numbers - reported at almost 40,000 people. "Fishermen in the Snow" sold for £85,000 (hammer) which is recorded in Sotheby's sold lot archive as £106,250 (including buyers premium) - by some considerable distance, a massive new world auction record for the Port Seton artist.

The financial uplift of ‘superstar ownership’ is well exampled by a 40 year old shirt currently being offered at a respected US auction house. The shirt is faded, tatty, has buttons missing and has no fancy designer label. However, it is the shirt Harrison Ford wore (briefly) in the 1982 cult Ridley Scott movie ‘Blade Runner’ and it's estimated at a mighty $50,000 - 70,000 (interested parties can search ‘Blade Runner Shirt’ on the - before 21st June!)

UK auction records suggest that very roughly one in every three John Bellany artworks which have sold at auction over the last decade were sold by McTear's. This unrivalled volume of sales has enabled our Pictures team to gain and develop a deep knowledge of John Bellany and his work. 

Our successes are seen by prospective sellers and this obviously encourages astute private collectors to consign from all around the UK - and especially from the London area. In fact, ‘Bass Rock Fable’ (a 76.2 x 60cm oil on canvas) which also sold on Sunday was consigned by a London Bellany collector who we've sold for in the past. The owner had acquired the picture at Christie's (London) in 2003 for £3290 (premium) and it sold on Sunday for £12,000 (£14,880 premium).



The fabulous price achieved for ‘The Finnon Smoker’ truly reflects not just our in depth knowledge of Bellany's work but equally our in depth knowledge of our buyer database and our determination to ensure that the right people knew that this picture was being offered. Furthermore, in some cases we also needed to explain "why" this picture was so important. You either have the knowledge or you don't. Our team does.

A week before the auction date, we knew from commission bids received that the picture would sell for at least £50,000 (hammer) which would in itself have put it well into the top few prices ever achieved for a Bellany. However, in the final days before the auction and following direct approaches from our team, two more key individuals registered to bid and expectations began to grow. 

As Managing Director Brian Clements commented: “Our Pictures team performed strongly and their research, knowledge and contacts unquestionably played a big part in the exceptional price achieved for our seller. It's also worth acknowledging that the seller put her trust in our advice and she played a significant part in filling in the information gaps which helped us track the provenance but at the time of the original approach, neither she or our team even knew the title of the picture.”

It's well possible that ‘The Finnon Smoker’ might have easily slipped through a London auction and sold for much less. We put more work and effort into ensuring that the optimum prices are achieved and we doubt that the London auction houses would have devoted so much time and effort for a picture valued at £10,000 - 15,000. After all, the twice as large and equally early ‘Fishermen in the Snow’ had only been estimated at £12,000 - 18,000 in the David Bowie auction. The Sotheby's lot essay was ‘generic’ and there was no explanation of the significance of the early date and style. It begs the question- did they actually know why it was an important picture? It also begs the question  - what would it have sold for if it wasn't for the David Bowie provenance? 

McTear's has staged The Scottish Contemporary Art Auctions every six weeks since November 2008 and the prices we achieve are testament to our expertise in the market. We have established record prices for well over a hundred artists (not all Scottish) and we know how strong we are in this sector, but perhaps more importantly, so do ever more private sellers wishing to refresh their collections.

Are we proud of the fact that we sold ‘The Finnon Smoker’ for a price of over £100,000 (including buyer premiums etc)? .... the answer is very obviously "yes" but we are equally proud of the fact that our team played such a big part in delivering this record price for our seller. The eventual buyer was one of the key individuals who received a direct contact from our team. 

If you have good pictures by well known artists and you're considering selling, we warmly invite you to get in touch. There's genuinely never been a better time for selling good pictures.


For a complimentary, no-obligation valuation, make an appointment to visit our Glasgow Galleries, contact our specialists by clicking this link and completing the short form, or call us on 0141 810 2880. 

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