Barbara Hepworth Takes Top Lot at London’s British Art Sales
Christie’s had the highest value sale, at £12 million.
London’s auction rooms held seven sales of Modern British art this week that just squeezed into the presale estimate range of £21.3–31.7 million, excluding the buyer’s premium, by making £22.3 million including the premium (estimates quoted do not include the premium; the sold figures do). Overall, 547, or a healthy 77.6 percent of the 705 lots offered found buyers.
There was an unpromising start by Bonhams, which normally holds its own in this category, when half of its top lots, led by a Henry Moore bronze, Reclining Figure on Pedestal, estimated at £1–2 million, failed to sell. Estimates were just too high, said dealers, and the sale made £2.7 million against a £4 million low estimate. However, they were rescued by London’s Pyms gallery, which bought two of the higher estimated sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, below estimate, for £542,500 and £120,100, including the premium; and by art adviser Wentworth Beaumont, who bought a 1987 bronze self-portrait of Eduardo Paolozzi as Hephaestus (weighing three-quarters of a ton) below estimate for £110,500.
But the star of the sale was undoubtedly a well preserved and beautifully executed 1913 watercolor landscape by Paul Nash, simply called Drawing, which had never been on the market and tripled its £50,000–70,000 estimate to sell to art adviser Susannah Pollen for £212,500; it was a record for a watercolor by Nash.
Sotheby’s did better with a £6.4 million ($10 million) sale against a £6 million low pre-sale estimate. The top lot was Striptease, Harlem (1934), one of three watercolors by Edward Burra sent for sale by collector Frank Cohen. Cohen bought it in 2007 for £490,000, and it now sold for £842,500 ($1.3 million), to art adviser Nicholas MacLean.
Some of the more interesting lots in the sale came from the collection of the modernist architect Eugene Rosenberg. Table Still Life by William Scott a 1953 work, sold to dealer Danny Katz, above estimate for £386,500 ($605,259), while a rare and perfectly conserved abstract relief, Linear Composition in Black and White (1960), by Victor Pasmore, sold to the dealer Jenna Burlingham, bidding for a client, for a triple estimate £146,500. An equally rare example of Pasmore’s transitional painting, as he moved from figuration to abstraction was View of the Canal from Magdalene Bridge (1947), which sold to dealer Richard Green, also for a triple estimate at £170,500 ($267,000).
The sale also witnessed a significant new record price for the postwar abstract artist Roger Hilton, when his large, scumbled painting December (1960), doubled estimates to sell for £170,500 ($267,000). Another price of note was the £128,500 paid by dealer Hugh Gibson against competition from the Marlborough Gallery for R.B. Kitaj’s 1962 painting Welcome Every Dread Delight. Coming from the collection of actress Pia Zadora, it had been estimated at just £50,000–70,000.
Christie’s had the highest value sale at £12 million ($18.7 million) realized against a £10.7–16.1 million presale estimate. This saw the highest price of the series when the Pyms gallery went over the £800,000 estimate to buy Barbara Hepworth’s tall wood sculpture Figure (Sunion) (1960), for £1.1 million ($1.7 million) for a private UK collector. But the biggest buyer in the evening sale was dealer Richard Green who secured the next top three lots. Sir John Lavery’s The Bathing Hour, Lido,Venice (1912), was estimated at £400,000–600,000 and sold for £686,500 ($1.1 million); Samuel John Peploe’s Still Life with Roses and Fruit from the artist’s family, was estimated at £300,000–500,000 and sold for £662,500 ($1 million dollars); and John Duncan Fergusson’s Poise (1916), which had been discovered in an attic by its owners in France, was estimated at £80,000–120,000 and sold for a record £638,500 ($997,000).
Another significant record was set when Euan Uglow’s large reclining nude Three in One (1967–68), from the collection of the late Sir Paul Getty, sold on a single bid by a US collector on the low estimate for £602,500 ($940,500). It was a close call and a daring estimate, as nothing by Uglow had been estimated above £60,000 before. A third record of note was set when pop artist Antony Donaldson’s car-racing picture For Jim Clark (1963) sold for £242,500, 10 times the artist’s previous record. As they raced past the £60,000–80,000 estimate, art adviser Manfredi della Gherardesca was eventually outbid by Christie’s Hugues Joffre, who had organized the company’s British Pop art exhibition in London last year.
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