Revealed: The Biggest Consignors to Next Week’s London Auctions, From a Swiss Winemaker to the Trust of a Real-Estate Kingpin

Next week's London sales are the city's most ambitious since lockdown. See who is parting with high-profile works.

Peter Doig, Blue Mountain (1996). Courtesy of Sotheby's.
Peter Doig, Blue Mountain (1996). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s are preparing to stage their most ambitious London auctions since the March 2020 lockdown. The two houses have put together 10 sales of some 1,000 works of Impressionist, Modern, and contemporary art next week with a combined pre-sale estimate of £281 million to £406 million ($392.4 million to $567 million). The offerings include a number of works from wealthy magnates who have decided that now is the time to sell. 

The largest consignor to Sotheby’s, Artnet News understands, is an entity linked to real estate billionaire and former Museum of Modern Art chairman Jerry Speyer. Charitable trusts associated with the Speyer family are behind the sale of some 22 lots estimated to be worth a combined £20 million to £33.3 million (all of which are guaranteed). The auction catalogue simply refers to the works as “property of a New York Charitable Family Trust.”

Speyer, who is currently chairman emeritus at MoMA, is a major collector of contemporary art and his family trusts’ consignments indicate areas he has pursued in the past. No examples made or acquired after 2006 are included. Now in his 80s, Speyer himself hardly, if ever, buys or sells at auction, making this outing something of a first. 

Jerry Speyer in New York. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Jerry Speyer in New York. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

A spokesperson for Speyer’s real estate company, Tishman Speyer, told Artnet News: “Mr. Speyer is not selling any art personally. Charitable entities associated with the Speyer family are selling some art as part of their charitable objectives.” The grapevine tells me there is more to come from this source.

At Sotheby’s modern and contemporary British art sale on Tuesday, the Speyer charitable trusts are selling two works by Peter Doig, bought from Victoria Miro and Gavin Brown in the mid-1990s, and now estimated between £3 million and £7 million each; a spin and a spot painting from the ‘90s by Damien Hirst bought directly from White Cube, estimated between £250,000 and £880,000; and a 2002 steel rod sculpture by Antony Gormley, estimated at £250,000 to £350,000, also from White Cube. 

The trusts have consigned a further 17 works worth up to £20 million to Sotheby’s international Modern and contemporary art sales on the same evening and following day. For a collector known to favor the contemporary, the surprise here is a 1956 painting of construction workers by Fernand Léger (suitable for any property developer) bought in the 1970s. It carries an estimate of £3 million to £4 million. 

Damien Hirst, Beautiful career minded painting (with blue slash) (1997). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Damien Hirst, Beautiful career minded painting (with blue slash) (1997). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The highest estimated contemporary work is a classic Jeff Koons, Two Ball 50/50 Tank (1985), which carries a £2.5 million-to-£3.5 million estimate. Speyer bought it off Hollywood talent-spotter Michael Ovitz in 1996 and lent it to the Whitney’s Koons retrospective in 2014.

For British Royal Family-watchers, Speyer’s trusts are selling a 1997 Elizabeth Peyton painting of recent Santa Barbara transplant Prince Harry—a mournful scene as he is pictured laying flowers in memory of his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a car crash that year. The estimate is £500,000 to £700,000. 

Elizabeth Peyton, Prince Harry (with Flowers) (1997). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Elizabeth Peyton, Prince Harry (with Flowers) (1997). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Another lot to watch from the same seller is Wangechi Mutu’s A Shady Promise, a diptych of a woman and an arching tree, which carries a £180,000-to-£250,000 estimate. It is likely to surpass the artist’s record of £204,500, which was set at Christie’s in 2011.

Other sought-after names in the Speyer disposal are works by Yayoi Kusama, Jean Dubuffet, Andy Warhol, Mark Bradford, Maria Lassnig, Rudolf Stingel, and Adriana Varejão.  

But Speyer’s family trusts aren’t the only entities selling under the radar. Below, we reveal a few other major consignors to next week’s London sales. 

 

The Family of Daniel Katz

Edward Burra, War in the Sun (1938). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Edward Burra, War in the Sun (1938). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A member of the family of the London dealer and collector Daniel Katz is selling a painting inspired by the Spanish Civil War by the British artist Edward Burra, whose slightly surreal watercolor War in the Sun (1938) carries a record-busting £1.8 million-to-£2.5 million estimate at Sotheby’s. 

When the work was last at auction, in 1992, it set a then-record £198,000, which stood for a decade. Katz bought the painting in 2005 from the Lefevre Gallery, which handles Burra’s estate. It now belongs to a member of the dealer’s family, according to Katz. The current record for Burra is just over £2 million, paid in 2011 for Zoot Suits (1948), a Harlem Renaissance-inspired painting. 

 

The Heirs of Frieder Burda

Pablo Picasso, L'Étreinte (1969). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Pablo Picasso, L’Étreinte (1969). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Several late Picassos that are among the top lots at Christie’s carry a variety of different seller designations—“important private collection,” “private Swiss collection”—but they all belonged to the late German collector Frieder Burda, who died in 2019. Burda’s museum in Baden Baden was the main repository for his almost 1,000-work collection, which included a strong selection of late Picassos, some of which now appear to be on offer from different members of his family. One is the erotic L’Etreinte (Embrace) (1969), which carries an £11 million-to-£16 million estimate; another is a musketeer painting with an estimate of £5 million to £7 million. Both carry a third-party guarantee. The heirs of Burda could not be reached for comment; Christie’s said it does not comment on consignors. 

 

Donald Hess

Gerhard Richter, Grauer Spiegel (Gray Mirror) (1992). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Gerhard Richter, Grauer Spiegel (Gray Mirror) (1992). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The 85-year-old Swiss entrepreneur and wine producer Donald Hess is parting with a gray mirrored work by Gerhard Richter at Sotheby’s. (The catalogue describes the seller as “an important Swiss collection.”) Hess bought the piece—which now carries an estimate of £1.2 million to £1.8 million—from dealer Anthony d’Offay the year it was made, 1992. Hess is not a big seller and doesn’t often leave his footprint at auction. Ten years ago, he sold a Francis Bacon for £18 million at Christie’s without revealing his identity. It is not known why he is selling the Richter, but recovering from damage wrought by the 2014 earthquake, which destroyed his Napa Valley winery, and the loss of his 2017 crop due to wildfires, may be a factor. Representatives for Hess and Sotheby’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 


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