$6 Million Jean Dubuffet Leads Impressive Leslie Waddington Auction at Christie’s

It was Waddington’s white glove sale.

Jean Dubuffet, Visiteur au chapeau bleu (Visitor with Blue Hat) (1955). Courtesy of Christie's.

London’s Frieze week auction opener was staged tonight by Christie’s, which had won the consignment of the collection of Leslie Waddington. London’s premier modern art dealer died last November, aged 81.

In his heyday during the late 1980s Waddington had five galleries in Cork Street, the center of the gallery circuit in London, with a turnover of over £74 million a year.

His nearest rival was the contemporary art dealer, Anthony d’Offay, with a turnover of £23 million (how London has changed). Hit hard by the early ’90s recession, Waddington soldiered on, a presence at all the major international art fairs. At Art Basel in 2013 he was granted the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Federation of European Art Galleries. A Francophile Irishman, in the intellectual tradition of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, he championed Jean Dubuffet and in his later years, merged his business with the French dealer, Stephane Custot.

Sir Peter Blake, R.A. (b. 1932) Leslie Waddington with Portrait of a Young Man by Hans Memling. Courtesy of Christie's.

Sir Peter Blake, R.A. (b. 1932). Leslie Waddington with Portrait of a Young Man by Hans Memling (1999). Courtesy of Christie’s.

Waddington’s collection was very personal, one that he lived with rather than just accumulating for its value. Forty-four lots were at auction tonight with a pre-sale estimate of £12-18.5 million. Estimates were considered to be set reasonably low, as is usual in the case of estate sales, but there was no doubting the energy in the saleroom and on the phone as every lot was sold; the “white glove sale” registered a premium inclusive £28.3 million ($36.1 million), establishing four artists’ records in the process.

“Leslie would have been delighted,” said the gallery’s former managing director, Tom Lighton, who is an executor of the estate. “I have no doubt that the provenance, Leslie’s reputation, and the fact that he had never tried to sell any of these works after he acquired them personally, were important factors.”

The sale got off to an electric start when Peter Blake’s portrait of Waddington saw restaurateur, and long term Blake supporter, Michael Chow, outbid a posse of contenders including dealer, Hugh Gibson, to buy it for £81,250  ($103,675), four times the low estimate.

Josef Albers (1888-1976) Study for Homage to the Square: Containt. Courtesy of Christie's.

Josef Albers (1888-1976). Study for Homage to the Square: Containt (1969). Courtesy of Christie’s.

The first of three small paintings by Josef Albers then tripled estimates to sell for £665,000 ($848,000) to US dealer, Stefan Simchowitz, better known for flipping younger artists. The price was equivalent to the record for a small Albers of that size, said Christie’s Brett Gorvy after the sale.

Simchowitz also two bought two other small Albers paintings for similar prices; but his bidding was not limited to the German-born American artist. An equally small 1959 abstract by Robert Motherwell, Spanish Elegy, fell to him for £905,000 ($1.2 million), again three times the estimate. He also picked up a jazzy, striped 1920s watercolor, Chariot, by Francis Picabia, close to the high estimate for £1.6 million ($2 million);  a small 1935 watercolor by Joan Miró, Musique, near the low estimate for £341,000 ($435,116); and a diminutive cubist bronze, Tete de Femme by Picasso, for a triple estimate £545,000 ($695,420). It was one of the only works Waddington had bought at auction, paying $33,000 dollars for it in 1992. It has previously been in the collection of the Picasso expert, Douglas Cooper.

Simchowitz only ducked out of the bidding after another Picabia—Lampe (1923), which explores the idea of beauty in both literal and mechanical terms—surpassed the previous record for a work on paper by the mercurial artist, selling for £3.6 million ($4.6 million) to an Asian phone bidder.

After the sale, Christie’s remarked on the strength of Asian and American bidding, noting that the pound sterling was at its lowest on the exchange rate market for 31 years.

Agnes Martin (1912-2004), Praise. Courtesy of Christie's.

Agnes Martin (1912-2004), Praise (1985). Courtesy of Christie’s.

More blue-chip than cutting edge contemporary, the highest valued lots were works by Agnes Martin, Jean Dubuffet, and Alexander Calder, each estimated at £2-3 million, and all acquired in the late ’80s when the dealer was experiencing great financial success.

First up was Martin’s six foot square white lined Praise (1985), that sold within estimate for £2.8 million ($3.6 million). Waddington bought Dubuffet’s 1955 painting, Visitor with a Blue Hat, around 30 years later from the legendary collector, E.J. Power, and it was typical of the belief he had in the artists he loved that it occupied the same place in his house until he died. With the Dubuffet market currently in rude health, it sold above estimate for £4.8 million ($6.1 million), the top lot of the sale.

Close behind was Calder’s Red Snake mobile, which never changed position after he bought and installed it in his house in 1988. Several bidders went for it, including former Sotheby’s staffer, Anthony Grant, until it sold to a bid from art advisor, Abigail Asher, above estimate for £4.4 million ($5.6 million).

Milton Avery was one of the first American artists he showed after he opened his gallery in London in 1966. After placing it in various private collections, he bought Dark Inlet for himself in 1979. Estimated at £900,000-1.5 million, it sold to a US phone bidder for a mid-estimate of £1.4 million ($1.8 million).

Waddington’s tendency to look back was reflected in the group of early 20th century works by Picabia, Picasso, and Man Ray. One of these, a “purist” still life by Amédée Ozenfant, set a top estimate record selling to a US buyer for £557,000 ($710,732).

Sir Michael Craig-Martin, R.A. (b. 1941) Las Meninas. Courtesy of Christie's.

Sir Michael Craig-Martin, R.A. (b. 1941). Las Meninas (2000). Courtesy of Christie’s.

Of the contemporary artists whom he represented, the most visible at this sale was Patrick Caulfield, sometimes classed as a British Pop artist, with examples from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Like all the contemporary work he owned, these were acquired directly from the artist. One, a version of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, fetched a record for a work on paper by the artist, selling for a double estimate £233,000. Another artist he supported was Michael Craig Martin, the “godfather of the YBAs,” who is now represented by Gagosian gallery. The record £149,000 ($190,000) paid for his Las Meninas (2000), against a £20,000 low estimate, would have particularly pleased Waddington, said Lighton.

Another £8 million plus of lesser valued works from the Leslie Waddington collection will be offered in London during the Modern British art sales in November.

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