On Wednesday 15 March, we held our Modern and Contemporary Art auction. Comprising a curated selection of 143 lots, the auction presented 20th & 21st century works covering traditional and post-war Modern British art, as well as Impressionist and international contemporary art. The auction saw great results, with the sale totalling £1,038,353 (including buyer's premium), with a sell-through rate of 86%. Here we take a look at some of the highlights.
We were pleased to offer an intimate portrait by Glyn Philpot, depicting the American philanthropist and art collector Robert Allerton, portrayed as a faun (Lot 61). The portrait, which was painted in 1913 when Philpot stayed with Allerton on his farms in Chicago, sold for £75,200, against an estimate of £15,000-20,000.
This work was purchased by the vendor in the late 1980s, after a chance encounter with Glyn Philpot's niece, Gabrielle. The gentleman recalls visiting Gabrielle, who lived in the basement apartment of his friend's property. He would visit for cups of tea as she sat surrounded by exquisite works produced by her uncle. This started a fascination with Glyn Philpot's work, making him want to acquire a work to add to his own collection and Gabrielle knew of a friend selling a work privately.
In 2022, the same gentleman was travelling home from the Glyn Philpot exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, reading curator Simon Martin's publication Flesh & Spirit, when he stumbled across a black and white photograph of his painting, with the notation 'Location unknown'. This then led to the work being consigned to our auction.
The portrait attracted competitive bidding, with online and telephone bids. Commenting about the work, Head of Sale, Francesca Whitham said, "This portrait of Allerton is strikingly different from all other known portraits and photographs of Allerton who was usually dressed in a smart suit, suitably posed and professional. This shirtless portrait, shows off his muscular shoulders and shows a very intimate side to his character. Allerton was a quiet and kind character. He was an introvert who socialised with a small group of friends, the opposite personality traits to the mischievous nature of the fauns from mythology."
The auction also featured property from the Estate of Jean Marsden (Lots 14-33) which included an important collection of eleven works by Dame Elisabeth Frink. A particular highlight from the collection was Lot 17, a maquette for Frink’s 1962 commission for Manchester Airport, which sold for £40,200.
The full scale bronze is dedicated to aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown, who made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919. Similar to the tall ‘Birdman’ sculpture of 1960, the work also forms part of a series of bronzes inspired by photographs of French adventurer Leo Valentin. Valentin attempted to achieve flight by strapping bird-like wings to his arms but ultimately fell to a dramatic death at an airshow in Liverpool in 1956 in front of 100,000 people. The news resonated with Frink whose experience during the war meant that she already had a preoccupation with flight along with a fear of heights. The sculptures she produced as a result depict figures falling sometimes at the point of impact with the ground.
From a private Berkshire collection, we had Lot 134, a vibrant work by British artist Mary Fedden (1915-2012), titled Don Giovanni by Mozart, still life with trumpet, sheet music and flower in a mug. This oil on canvas sold for an impressive £24,570.
Fedden had a long and extremely productive career and she painted prolifically from 1946. Still life compositions accounted for the bulk of her output, and her style carried somewhat the mark of John Minton, although anglicised and softened for a more temperate climate.
Following on from our Modern and Contemporary Art auction in October 2022, when we offered a collection of works by British artist David Bomberg, we were pleased to offer this portrait by Bomberg, titled The Child Dinora, in this auction (Lot 75). Painted in 1930, this work depicts his step-daughter Dinora Marr (née Mendelson). Marr herself was a painter and this work came from her private collection. Against an estimate of £6,000-8,000, it sold for £23,940.
Also from the Estate of Jean Marsden, we had Lot 32, Nude with folded arms by Keith Vaughan (1912-1977), which sold for £18,270.
Vaughan was best known for his muted abstractions of male nudes, landscapes and architecture. In the 1940s he was one of the leading artists of the Neo-Romanticism movement. This work, dated 1963, is a prime example of his work. It was purchased from Beaux Arts, London/Bath in May 1996 by Jean Marsden.
Quite the statement piece, we had Lot 110, the "Event Horizon" table by Australian artist Marc Newson, selling for £118,950. Made from polished and partially lacquered aluminium, this example was number 6 from an edition of 10 plus 3 artists proofs and 1 yellow version, produced by POD Edition, UK.
In astrophysical terms an Event Horizon is the boundary of a black hole where the properties of space and time are altered. It is the point of no return, where nothing can resist the immense gravitational pull of the black hole. In giving this work such a universal title Newson not only announces this piece as an important fulcrum or pivotal moment in his constantly developing creative process but also reminds us of the importance of exploration and innovation in his work.
With a selection of works by Sir Terry Frost on offer, an auction highlight was Lot 119, titled Yellow and Purple, November 62. This particular work sold for £12,600.
Sir Terry Frost is one of the best-known British artists of the 20th century. His vibrant abstract paintings have come to epitomise the St. Ives artistic movement. He was a product of both the earlier Newlyn School of Art, and a natural successor to pioneers of British abstraction such as Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon and Barbara Hepworth, for whom he worked as a studio assistant in 1951. The present work, along with other examples of Frost's work featured in the sale, brought together imagery that he used repeatedly in his work from the early 1950s right up until the end of his life. Inspired by the Cornish landscape, Frost uses the juxtaposition of curved symmetrical forms with the intersection of horizontal lines against a vibrantly coloured backdrop. Whilst wholly abstract in execution, the forms are clearly rooted in the familiar motifs of boats, harbours, sun, moon and the sea. Frost also experimented with collage and three-dimensional construction and was also a prolific and extremely successful printmaker.
Finally, we wanted to take a look at Lot 109, this work by Ben Nicholson, titled 1966 (Interior Tuscan Cathedral). This ink and gouache on an etched ground, was offered in the original artists frame and sold for £18,900.
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