Mr. Deacon at Auction

Mr. Deacon reappears  throughout A Buyer’s Market. The factual threads from which Powell wove Mr. Deacon are diverse.  For example, as a teen Powell became friendly with Christopher Sclater Millard, the gay owner of a bookshop, a model for Mr. Deacon’s antique store. Nick’s parents had a long friendship with Mr. Deacon, but in reality, when Powell’s father learned the Millard had been in prison for his homosexuality, the elder Powell made his son stop seeing Millard. (TKBR p. 38-42).  We will be paying more attention to Mr. Deacon as a commentary on art than on his politics or life style.

Anthony and Cleopatra Alma-Tadema 1883 private collection photo in public domain for Wikipaintings

Anthony and Cleopatra
Alma-Tadema 1883
private collection
photo in public domain from Wikipaintings

The opening scene in an auction room is apt, because one illustration of Time’s caprice is the fluctuating popularity of artists, particularly reflected in the price of their work.  Mr. Deacon’s four canvases sell at the auction for a few pounds, no more than the value of the frames.

In 2010 Alma-Tadema’s Moses sold at auction for $35 million and in 2011 his Anthony and Cleopatra was gavelled at Sotheby’s for $26 million. Alma-Tadema showed Cleopatra at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1882-3. It was bought by Sir Joseph Robinson, whose collection was shown at the Royal Academy in 1958. It changed hands at a Southeby’s auction in 1962 for £2000 and at Christie’s in 1993 for £879,500. In Alma-Tadema’s day, his works were most valuable if the sale included the right to reproduce them as prints. In 1874 the price for a painting with these rights might have been as high as £10,000. More usual prices rose from £2,000 and £3,000 in the 1880s to about twice that by the early 1900s. However, prices for Victorian paintings collapsed in the early 1920s, and an Alma-Tadema could be had for a few hundred pounds. Prices were still that low when Powell published BM in 1952. Mr. Deacon was no Alma-Tadema, so his values were orders of magnitude less. We will have to wait until the final volume of Dance, set about 1971, to see if his prices recover.

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