Colin Gleadell goes in-depth at the Sotheby’s single-owner watercolor sale where Ian Craft, a fertility doctor, sold off his collection of wonders. David Thomson, he of the record-setting Rubens several years ago, was buying in bulk:
The sequence of records was prefaced with a dramatically lit 1766 drawing of a boy reading, by Joseph Wright of Derby, which sold near its higher estimate to St James’s art dealer Novella Baroni, for £313,250 – the second highest price for a work on paper by the artist. Five lots later, a key player made his entrance when, bidding through an agent in the room, Canadian billionaire collector Baron David Thomson of Fleet homed in on a rare drawing by Richard Wilson, the influential landscape painter. The estimate for the 1754 drawing of the Villa Borghese in Rome was high, at £100,000 to £200,000, but Thomson rose to the challenge, buying it for a record £109,250.
Then came the fireworks. A large panorama of a menacing sky over the darkening hills surrounding Lake Albano outside Rome, by John Robert Cozens (circa 1790), epitomised the originality of the artist’s expressive, atmospheric tone. Long considered one of Cozens’ masterworks, Craft bought it for a record £198,500 in 1991. Now estimated to fetch £500,000, several bidders took it up to £1 million, after which a battle was staged between a former Sotheby’s expert, the London dealer Guy Peppiatt, and Thomson, who finally prevailed, buying it for £2.4 million – a record not just for the artist, but for any 18th-century British watercolour. […] After this, further records tumbled. A grotto near Rome, captured in a magical display of light and shade by Thomas Jones in 1777, sold to Thomson for a double estimate £229,250, while a second view of Lake Albano, made by another Grand Tour artist, Francis Towne with broad, contrasting washes of colour in 1781, also sold to Thomson for £289,250 – both more than doubling their estimates.
British Watercolour Sales Sets New Records (Telegraph)