Eclectic and highly sophisticated, this collection gathers a number of outstanding works ranging from African to contemporary art. Through paintings, works on paper and sculpture, it is drawn out into a tangible thread, linking the most revered moments of modern art, and anchoring them in images of figurative reality. The collection was formed in the late 1970s and early 1980s in close collaboration with Marlborough Fine Art, in particular its famous director Tony Reichardt, who pioneered and tirelessly promoted the work of many British artists including Lynn Chadwick and R.B. Kitaj. The lively correspondence he kept with the owner of the present collection is a testament to their intersecting tastes as well as their deep appreciation of avant-garde art.
The collection is led by a pair of sublime Francis Bacon self-portraits, executed with virtuosic fluency and studied executional force. These works showcase Bacon as a prominent colourist and reflect the impetus behind the whole collection. Bacon holds up the human form as a prism through which the viewer can observe the essence of his artistic message; it is as much a visual language tasked with conveying wider significance, as it is a subject unto itself. His physiognomy becomes an idiom of immediate interpretation, suffusing each panel of his work with artistic brilliance and discernible meaning.
Henry Moore’s Falling Warrior is a work of emotive power and dramatic force; other casts reside in permanent collections at the Tate, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, among others. Edgar Degas’ enigmatic pastel Physionomie de criminel is prized for its rarity and its engagement with the psychology of human behaviour, and has been the subject of intense and widespread scholarly analysis. Theleitmotif of the human figure is further explored in the oil by Edouard Vuillard, who used intimate domestic imagery as a vessel through which he could explore his Nabis style. The Surrealist mantle is also taken up: Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dalí are represented by works that combine a playful character with the exploration of the unconscious.
The works of African art in the collection provide a cantilever to these modern masterpieces. Their presence not only reflects progressive contemporaneous tastes, but also further elucidates the universality of the human form to every artistic language. We are reminded of Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi, who brought the genre out of ‘primitivism’ and into the spotlight of Western art historical discourse. Their artistic references and personal collections opened a dialogue that some of the most prominent collectors of the latter twentieth century came to engage with. The African art represented in this collection finds its echo in the works by Bacon, Chadwick and Moore, and this dualistic trend is beautifully combined in Moore’s sumptuous work on paper Two Women and Child, in which intricately stylised heads may well have been influenced by carved African masks which Moore himself collected.
Sotheby’s is honoured to be offering this extraordinary assemblage of art which has been hidden away from the public eye and quietly enjoyed by its owners over several decades. Its eclectic contents are united not only by the imagery of human figure and form, but also by their exceptional and timeless quality.
Further works from ‘Figure and Form: Works from an Important Private Collection’ will be offered in the African Art sale in Paris on 24th June, Impressionist & Modern Art Day sale in London on 25th June, and Contemporary Art Evening and Day auctions in London on 1st and 2nd July 2015.