By Adrian Biddell
Local resident and Head of Paintings & Fine Art at Chiswick Auctions, Adrian Biddell, talks paintings in this month’s guest blog.
From William Hogarth to Sir Peter Blake, Chiswick has long been a favoured haunt of artists. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the Fine Arts are flourishing at Chiswick Auctions. We have had an incredibly busy start to 2021, with picture auctions during February, March and April totalling well north of £1 million.
Sales have included the inspirational Collection of Allen and Beryl Freer, packed with Modern British art; our sale of Urban and Contemporary Art featuring pieces with Charles Saatchi provenance; 19th & 20th Century European Paintings & Works on Paper including Portrait Miniatures, and most recently a bonanza of three specialist sales in one day: Middle Eastern & North African Art; Old Master Paintings & Drawings (including a ‘white glove’ frame sale)#; and Modern & Post-War British Art.
The Freer sale in February, subtitled The Delighted Eye Part II, followed Part I held at Christie’s a year earlier. Delayed by the pandemic, pent up demand ensured it was a virtual sell out and prices notably strong. Teeming with names who have moulded the popular ‘Modern British’ aesthetic since the War, the likes of Prunella Clough, Eileen Agar, Terry Frost, Ivon Hitchens and John Nash were extensively represented, with the highest price in the sale by Agar (£9,687). For Huon Mallieu in Country Life it was subjects from nature that truly ‘delighted’. Describing lot 53 by Mary Newcomb (sold for £3,264; estimate £500-700), he wrote lyrically: ‘…one could almost hear the buzz of her 6¾ by 8 inch pencil, chalk and gouache drawing of a bee’ (Country Life, 10th March 2021).
In March our Urban & Contemporary sale was peppered with the customary subversives. These included French street-art ‘old masters’ Mr Brainwash and Blek Le Rat, the American KAWS, and British artists Banksy, Messrs. Doodle and Brainwash, Xenz, and Pure Evil. The highest price was achieved by STIK, whose five prints Holding Hands (Yellow, Turquoise, Orange, Blue, Red) achieved £10,000. Behind the Urban noise, were other more established names (hard though it may be to so describe them): Americans Christopher Wool and Keith Haring; the ever-inventive David Shrigley; a sketch by Bob Dylan; the pulsating colour of Anish Kapoor and the work of one-time young British YBA tearaways Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin. Of the works boasting a Saatchi connection, 60% were by female artists.
One week on, the sale of 19th and 20th century pictures was a category best at Chiswick, realising £332,500 against a combined low estimate of £222,500. The Magic Fish by Austrian émigré Marie-Louise von Mesick was the catch of the day, achieving a new world record for the artist (£18,750). Friend I of 1931 by fellow Austrian Louis Christian Hess also sold well (£10,625). Both artists were keenly influenced by German Expressionist Max Beckmann. Post-War painters that attracted attention included the ‘underground’ Czech painter Mikulas Medek and New Zealand Modernist Pat Hanly whose three oils quadrupled pre-sale expectations to achieve a combined £23,500. Traditional 19th century tastes were assuaged in the shape of ten oils of cardinals, cavaliers and gentlemen of learning by the leading artists of this distinctive genre: Landini, Brunery and Vibert. Rounding off the sale were sixty portrait miniatures, the highest price for which was by George Engleheart (£4,000). Elsewhere a work by Laurence Hilliard, son of the eminent Nicholas Hilliard, realised £3,750.
Our second sale of Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern & North African art kicked off the trio of sales on 22nd April. A tightly curated 45 lots, it featured 32 artists from Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia and the Gulf. Interestingly, 25% of the artists were women, their works accounting for a third of the sale by value, including the top two prices: £21,250 for La danse by Algerian painter Baya, and £20,000 for Le village of 1951 by Egyptian Tahia Halim. These are notable results in view of the geopolitics of the region, and that women artists worldwide account for a mere 2% of the auction market. The sale attracted collectors internationally, was 75% sold by lot and totalled just shy of £160,000.
Hard on the heels of the Middle Eastern and North African sale was our auction of Old Master Paintings and Works on Paper which realised £152,000 with a strong 75% sell rate by lot. It is a recurring source of wonder that works of such elegance and style painted three or four hundred years ago are still available for relatively little. Corner stones of the sale were the ‘four’ graces – a beauty parade of elegant ladies from the 16th and 17th centuries. Portrait of a lady, half-length in a floral embroidered gown and lace ruff from circa 1580 and ascribed to the Italian School was most prized, selling to a collector on the Continent for £20,000 (estimate £4,000-6,000). The second highest price was £12,500 for a Classical landscape by Dutch painter Abraham Jansz Begeyn (1637-1697). The final 35 lots were a collection of antique and period frames. A novel departure for us, it proved to be a frame feeding frenzy. 100% sold – hence the earlier reference to a ‘white-glove’ sale – the highest price was £4,375.
Thanks to such post-War Chiswick luminaries as Julian Trevelyan and Mary Fedden who began the annual artists ‘Open Studios’ in Chiswick in the 1950s (now the successful ‘Artists at Home’ held each June), it is unsurprising that our thrice-yearly Modern & Post-War British sales are so keenly followed. The third and final auction on 22ndApril, the sale attracted more than 300 registered bidders from around the world and was 84% sold by lot. Top prices were for an abstract by Ralph Rumney of 1956, the third highest price at auction for the artist; a new record price for In an old book (1966) – the etching by David Hockney (£6,875), and Central by Harold Cohen, which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1966 sold for £5,500. Other highlights included Duplex by Robert Adams (£5,625); portraits by Graham Sutherland (£5,000) and Oliver Messell (£5,500) and Wall Painting I by Bridget Riley (£5,750), the second highest price at auction for an example from this edition. The sale also featured a varied selection from the estate of Putney sculptor Alan Thornhill.
Our forthcoming summer series of picture sales include Urban & Contemporary Art on 11th June; 19th & 20th Century Paintings & Works on Paper on 29th June, and Modern & Post-War British Art on 8th July. Our next sales of Old Master Paintings & Drawings and Middle Eastern and African Art are slated for early autumn, as is our specialist Orientalist sale: A Middle Eastern Journey. Deadlines for the inclusion of works is six weeks before each sale date.
Head of Paintings & Fine Art
# A white glove sale is when all lots are sold. According to Antique Traders Gazett,e it is believed to refer to the traditional award of a pair of white gloves to an auctioneer after every lot had sold.
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