J.B. Yeats Painting From David Bowie’s Collection Is Coming to Auction This Fall

Will the rock star's prized possession spark a bidding contest?

Musician David Bowie speaks onstage at the 11th Annual Webby Awards on June 5, 2007 in New York City. Courtesy of Bryan Bedder/Getty Images.

A painting by Irish artist Jack Butler Yeats—whose prominent relatives included his brother, poet and writer William Butler Yeats, and his father John Butler Yeats, who was considered one of the best portrait painters of his generation—will be at Sotheby’s London on November 10, as part of the three-part auction of David Bowie‘s collection. The British singer-songwriter was also a prolific collector. In a 1999 interview with the BBCBowie says, “The only thing I buy obsessively and addictively is art.”

The Yeats painting has an estimate of $158–237,000 (£120–180,000).

Jack Butler Yeats, Sleep Spunds (1955). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Jack Butler Yeats, Sleep Sound (1955). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Bowie bought the semi-abstract work, titled Sleep Sound (1955), at Sotheby’s in November 1993, nearly 23 years ago, for $68,000 (£45,500).  Prior to that it had been owned by a San Francisco collector, Eleanor de Bretteville Reid (whose auction Bowie purchased it from) and had been with London-based Waddington Custot Galleries before that, according to the provenance listed in Sotheby’s catalogue.

Sleep Sound is one of about 400 works in Bowie’s collection that will be offered across three sales at Sotheby’s this fall, titled “Bowie/Collector”. It will be preceded by a touring exhibition that travels to London, Los Angeles, New York, and Hong Kong.

Sotheby’s experts say Yeats may have been alluding to his brother William’s poem Lullaby with this work, which depicts two figures lying on a moor beneath a heavy sky. It was painted two years before his death.

“That David Bowie should therefore be drawn to the work of Yeats is unsurprising—he was a great admirer of his work and knew it well. In Yeats he found a pioneering and explorative artist that reflected his own creative impulses,” according to Sotheby’s description. A defining characteristic of Yeats’s career is his “independent spirit,” Sotheby’s experts noted, explaining that he pursued his own visual language.

The artnet Price Database lists more than 1,100 auction results for the artist. The highest price ever achieved at auction was $1.97 million, at Sotheby’s London, in May 1999, for the 1947 painting The Wild Ones. A total of eight works by Yeats have sold at auction for more than $1 million.


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