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Revealed: We Identified the Seller of Freud’s ‘Girl With Eyes Closed’ and 6 More Top Consignors to This Week’s London Auctions
We bring you the inside scoop on who is selling what.
Who is selling at the London auctions this week?
London’s major seasonal sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art begin on March 1, and have a combined presale estimate (for day and evening sales) of £468.9 million to £663.8 million ($637.4 million to $902.4 million). As a mark of improvement, the total low estimate (which does not include the auctioneer’s commission) is 34.5 percent up on the total £348.7 million (including the commissions) achieved last year across all three house’s equivalent sales. This year, the three salerooms are all in action in the same week, and with more than 1,000 lots on offer, one thing is clear: supply has not been a problem.
Among the top consignments are a Bacon triptych at Christie’s (lot 114) with a £35 million-to-£45 million estimate already identified by Artnet News as the property of the architect Norman Foster; a group of five Monets at Sotheby’s also fingered by the Canvas as belonging to Washington Commanders’ owner Dan Snyder, with a combined £34.7 million to £48.8 million estimate, and a large scale Magritte, L’Empire des Lumières, also at Sotheby’s, acknowledged in the catalogue as the property of the Gillon Crowet collection and heading for a record £45 million-plus—all guaranteed.
Then there are numerous lots whose owners have either not been clearly identified in print or have unexpectedly switched auction allegiances. Here’s what we have found out about some of these mystery consignors ahead of the action.
The Family of Ian and Mercedes Stoutzker
The big scoop Artnet News can reveal is that the beautiful Lucian Freud portrait of artist Janey Longman, Girl with Eyes Closed (1986/7), which is estimated to fetch between £10 million and £15 million at Christie’s, has come from the family of Ian and Mercedes Stoutzker. The family have been important collectors of British art, including Francis Bacon, over many years. They acquired this painting from Freud’s dealer, James Kirkman, in 1987. In 2012, the Stoutzkers donated a Freud portrait of another artist, Celia Paul, to Tate as part of a larger gift that also included works by David Hockney, Rachel Whiteread, Peter Doig, and Hurvin Anderson amongst others.
Never far from the action in the Basquiat market is the dealer/collector Jose Mugrabi, and Sotheby’s this week has an unidentified example from his collection, an untitled dripped spray paint and collage from 1981 signed NAEJBASMICHIQU (lot 132) estimated at £2.6 million to £3.6 million. Mugrabi bought the painting at Phillips in London in 2013 for £1.9 million, well below the estimate, so could be in line for a disappointment for such an in-demand artist.
There are several works for sale that have been restituted to their owners or owners’ families—the most prominent being a classic Franz Marc painting of a pair of foxes at Christie’s with a record busting £35 million estimate (lot 34). Less prominent is a group of Picasso drawings at Sotheby’s day sale (lots 222-230) about which little information is given apart from being consigned by Marina Picasso. Further investigation reveals that these are among the works acquired by questionable means by Picasso’s electrician, Pierre le Guennec – information that is not documented on the provenance. The case brought against Le Guennec by the artist’s heirs was reported by Artnet News in November 2019, and these sales are the upshot.
The Morris and Rita Pynoos Collection
A painting by David Hockney that featured in Sotheby’s presale publicity in New York last May with a $8 million–$12 million estimate (£5.4 million–£8.8 million), but was withdrawn at the last minute, has reappeared in the London auctions, but this time at Phillips with a reduced £4 million–£6 million estimate. Self Portrait on the Terrace, 1984, was originally consigned to Sotheby’s in New York last November as part of the Morris and Rita Pynoos collection which contained several other works by Hockney and a $7.2 million ribbon painting by de Kooning. The collection came up for sale after Morris died in 2012 and then Rita in 2019, leaving two sons. No explanation was given for the withdrawal at Sotheby’s, but such events are usually the result of lack of presale interest. The switch to Phillips, where it is the highest estimated lot (number 19), was likely determined by the guarantee.
Occasionally works that belong to an auction house appear in their own auctions. One of the more intriguing auction house owned lots is a silver oil on enamel by Rudolf Stingel (Sotheby’s day sale, lot 465) in which Sotheby’s has financial interest. Estimated at £150,000–£200,000, it was previously offered by Sotheby’s with a guarantee and a £250,000–£350,000 estimate in October 2019, just as the lawsuits were pouring in for the now disgraced art dealer, Inigo Philbrick, who specialised in trading Stingel’s work on the secondary market. But it went unsold. Had this been a Philbrick consignment which backfired? Sotheby’s won’t say.
In the same day sale are a group of works with no ownership details apart from “a Private European Collection” which appear to have come from the collection of German mega-collector Thomas Olbricht, having been shown at his me Collectors Room in Berlin. Olbricht has now closed his me Room and cleared out about 500 works from his collection for €3.4 million, including 20 artist records at the van Ham auctions in Cologne last year. In London there are four works—two by George Condo and one sculpture each by Jake and Dinos Chapman and Glenn Brown (lots 438-441), with a combined upper estimate of £1.2 million.
There was a time when sales from the Saatchi collection caused a stir. They kept the market alive, for instance in the early ‘90s recession. But lately the sales have rattled on without much comment—except, that is, when large consignments are made to the smaller auction rooms for very low prices. As he once said: “90 percent of what I buy will be worthless one day.” Seventeen works at Chiswick auctions, West London, last August sold for just £14,500; and in April, 36 lots were sold at Ewbank’s in Surrey for under £9,000 in total. The latest stage in the cull is taking place online now until March 9 with Christie’s offering at least another six Saatchi works in a First Open sale with estimates ranging from £1,200 to £7,000. Highest estimate is £5,000 to £7,000 for Casa Tomada, a group of five fiberglass and mixed media ants by Rafael Gomezbarros (lot 119). The highest auction price for the Colombian artist is £20,000, achieved for a group of 25 similar ants from the Saatchi collection in 2020.
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