Sir Alfred Munnings painting of 1936 Epsom Derby winner Mahmoud exceeded its pre-auction estimate by thousands of dollars, with the hammer falling at €450,000 ($US530,000) at an auction in Paris.
The Mahmoud portrait, which had been expected to fetch between €200,000 and €300,000 ($US235,000-350,000) at the Christies sale in Paris on October 1, was the highest priced lot. In total, the 179 lots, including furniture and objects from around the globe, fetched €2,996,962. Other pieces to sell for high prices included a Picasso artwork (€100,000), works by Claude Lalanne including two tables (€200,000 and €125,000) and two candelabra (€137,500 and €131,250), and a table by Diego Giacometti (€250,000)
The famous piece was from the collection of Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan. Mahmoud was owned by the Aga Khan, and the portrait is set at Epsom, where he won the Derby in 1936.
Born in 1933 by the Derby winner Blenheim and from Mah Mahal, both of whom raced in the Aga Kahn’s colours, Mahmoud had not always been a favourite of his owner, who had attempted to sell him as a yearling.
But following his outstanding Derby win, the Aga Khan commissioned portraits of his champion from Sir Alfred Munnings, at that point the most brilliant equestrian painter of the British school.
It shows Mahmoud as he is about to be saddled by his training jockey, Freeman. In his memoires Munnings recalled his pleasure at painting these two models, whose mutual understanding and complicity was so apparent: “I liked Mahmoud, and liked painting him, one reason being that he was looked after by a most intelligent lad who understood me as well as his horse.”
Another painting from this commission, depicting Mahmoud being tacked up, recently reappeared on the market in the US.
Following the 1936 season, Mahmoud was retired to stud. He was later sold to US businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and became one of the leading broodmare sires in North America. He was the damsire of Gallant Man, Grey Dawn and Career Boy amongst others, and his daughter Almahmoud was one of the most important broodmares of the 20th century.
Through both his racing and breeding he stands amongst the most important horses in Anglo-American sporting history.