The upcoming auction season in London looks to be a tightly curated affair with only eight auctions, across the three main houses, taking place the week commencing 27th February. That said, the calibre of work on display, and notably the attractive estimate levels, is still high and there are some blockbuster works going under the hammer. All the sale dates and the links to the relevant sites are listed below.
Christie’s Evening sales are for the most part an absolute joy to flick through. The Lucian Freud depicting a Puffin, Scillonian Beachscape, was executed merely yards from where I went on holiday as a boy – the Scilly Isles have always been a magnet for artists, but I never realised Freud had enjoyed their beauty. It is a typically elegant and ‘clean’ mid 40s picture and Christie’s have recently dominated the market for these works (you may recall the Lobster from last Spring?). The Kirchner Nude of 1912-13 is a real gem. The striking, spontaneous, paintwork captures the allure of the subject with bold, brave colours and a bravura resistance to both the Cubist and the classical. Kirchner and Heckel really did tread their own path – which is captured in both their 1910s paintings in this sale. I can’t get too excited about either of the large Picasso paintings in the sale. The big ‘Jacqueline’, which I believe comes from a large Spanish collection, is sub-par and too expensive. The other grisaille is purposely scrappy but at over 1m in height it will be enticing to many at the 6-9m GBP estimate (especially with this weak sterling). The best sale at this time of year is the Art of the Surreal sale at Christie’s and amongst the Magrittes and the Tanguys and other gems my favourite work is the André Masson, ‘Le fauteuil Louis XVI’ of 1938, painterly Surrealism at its very best.
Sotheby’s have their usual ‘NOW’ sale of 21st Century contemporary works with artists such as Michael Armitage taking centre stage. Armitage’s work is brilliant, and I highly advise a read of the excellent catalogue note about ‘Muliro Gardens’ and Kenya’s law enforcement that led to the image. Cecily Brown, as ever in these London auctions, is well represented – which can only be a good thing. Caroline Walker’s work features throughout the sales this season and Sotheby’s have several top-class examples. ‘In Every home’ has a narrative like a Victorian painting – the maid with her sweeping brush in the mid-ground counterbalanced by the striking, bored girl by the pool. Also, worth admiring Walker’s ‘The Puppeteer’ at Christie’s too. Yet the best lot in any of the sales remains the 1910 Kandinsky depicting the church at Murnau which is being offered in the Modern Section of the Sotheby’s sale. It is just about the perfect Kandinsky of that Murnau period, and I look forward to some competitive bidding for a museum-calibre painting.
Phillip’s have only a handful of works in the preview section of their site, but the two top lots look very imposing – A major 1984 De Kooning and a 1983 Gerhard Richter ‘Mathis’ that has all the colour and panache of his finest work of that period. It will be interesting to see the Day sale which I always feel has some fabulous value at Phillip’s London. Note the new artists in the back part of the catalogue – there are always a few gems at decent price levels.
Though the sales are smaller than usual I think that bidding for the top lots will be strong. The rest of the Evening sale offerings may squeeze through on irrevocable bids but overall, I think these sales are well curated and will form a good introduction to the year’s auctions. Most importantly, if you are considering biding at high levels, please do use an advisor with Auction House and Gallery experience and remember the best piece of advice of all… collect slowly and carefully!