Whilst the sun shone on London in early June the various art world machines whirred into life for the best two weeks of the Summer: Art Auctions, Art Fairs, Ascot and the Ashes are all with us. The auctions this term are small but perfectly formed with the majority of the Impressionist and Modern highlights secured in a very short business-getting period between mid-May and early June: giving little time to put a major sale series together. That said, the best work of the week is a large late Gustav Klimt portrait, ‘Dame Mit Facher’ (c. 65m GBP), following hot on the heels of the Attersee painting that made 53m USD in New York last month. Although this magnificent portrait was still sitting on the artist’s easel when he died, the Klimt is a treasure and a real coup for London to secure over New York too.
Other highlights at Sotheby’s are, for the most part, in the contemporary sphere with a top Mark Bradford map picture, ‘Stand down Soldier’ of 2018, being offered at 2.5-3.5m GBP. There is a 1971 Helen Frankenthaler which should do well at a conservative estimate of 900,000-1.2m GBP. Though perhaps a little late for a colour field work I think it is one of the finest I can recall. It has a Rothko depth and resonance that is hard to photograph and really needs to be seen in the flesh. The thin lines of colour to the centre which seems to crease across the yellow remind me of Miro’s output after his New York visit in the late 1950s – a clever device to break up the uniformity of the yellow. Frankenthaler should, I hope, start to see the same price points as Noland and even Newman in the near future. Frank Auerbach is having a moment in these sales with several top works offered including a fabulous ‘Mornington Crescent’ at Sotheby’s and perhaps the best reclining figure, ‘EOW on her Blue Eiderdown VII’ exhibiting remarkable deep impasto, offered amongst the very best Freud, Giacometti, and Hepworth. Finally at Sotheby’s, the rarest of rare: a painted Alberto Giacometti bronze depicting his brother Diego. I have not come across one of these painted works outside a museum and it really is sensational.
Across Piccadilly there is not quite the depth of quality but then there is only one work with an in-house guarantee. Clearly there is a cautious approach to Christies’ business getting this season and time will tell if Sotheby’s bolder approach will work out. It is a significant risk to oversell ‘guarantee-business’ and I understand their reticence. That said, an 1896 Paul Signac, ‘Calanque des Canoubiers (Pointe de Bamer)’ and a fabulous Basquiat painting of Picasso are both top lots. Also, at the lower end of the Evening sales a mantelpiece-sized Camille Pissarro work depicting his beloved Eragny at 1m-1.5m GBP is worth a serious look!
The sale links are as follows:
Tuesday 27th June
Wednesday 28th June
Thursday 29th June
Friday 30th June
Overall, we should see some good sell through rates for a relatively small auction season but do please remember my advice – use an advisor when buying at significant price points. There are a multitude of pitfalls in buying at auction, for the uninitiated.