T he Jubilee Season's sales at Sotheby’s on 29 June saw a full house of clients and specialists at New Bond Street on a warm June evening, for a very special auction that marked the climax of a month’s celebration of the Queen’s 70th year. British Art: The Jubilee Auction presented a richly diverse selection of art, from distinguished names to thrilling new talents, all reflecting aspects of Britain’s unique character.
The jewel in the crown of the evening’s sale was a singular work, a moment encapsulating the dynamic relationship between the country’s greatest 20th-century painters, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. Painted by Bacon in 1964, at the height of his rambunctious friendship with Freud, Study For Portrait of Lucian Freud sold for £43,336,000, following a spirited exchange of bids, as collectors vied to own this monumental piece of British art history.
British Art: The Jubilee Auction, John Constable, Cloud Study
The sale had commenced earlier with an aerial battle for John Constable’s Cloud Study inspiring a veritable storm of bids whirling skywards to £730,800, against an estimate of £150,000. This was followed by an equally vigorous session of bids for an exquisite ceramic pot, Untitled, by Dame Magdalene Odundo, which shattered its upper estimate of £80,000 to sell for £302,400.
British Art: The Jubilee Auction, Flora Yukhnovich, Boucher's Flesh
Hot on the heels of Dame Magdalene came one of the most exciting young artists on the market today, Flora Yukhnovich, who confirmed her immense popularity with Sotheby's clients by realising an astonishing £2,334,000 for Boucher's Flesh, originally estimated at £200,000-300,000.
Meanwhile, Sotheby’s reignited interest in one of the Britain’s brightest talents, the inimitable pioneer and lost icon of the 1960s, Pauline Boty, whose death in 1966 impoverished the British art world of a truly singular voice. With one of her most lyrical pieces, With Love to Jean-Paul Belmondo, a record was set for the late British Pop artist, selling for £1,159,500
A celebration of creativity, British Art: The Jubilee Auction saw bidding from global locations through our award-winning livestream format, allowing full participation by clients worldwide, a system described by auctioneer and Sotheby’s Chairman Oliver Barker as providing bidders with, 'the best of both worlds'.
Top 10 Results
Following British Art: The Jubilee Auction came the Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, with auctioneer Helena Newman taking over from Oliver Barker at the rostrum to present a thrillingly-diverse catalogue of 45 lots, spanning legendary names and exciting newcomers. And judging from the pre-sale gossip in the room, excitement was high for the array of exceptional pieces, representing some of the greatest artists of modern times, ranging from Gerhard Richter to Andy Warhol, Camille Pissaro to Egon Schiele. With clients in the room, on the phones and online all bidding with shrewd insight and passion, it was clear that potential buyers were finding inspiration in the line-up of artists who reflected the dynamic complexion of today’s art world.
Gerhard Richter’s Study for Clouds (Contre-jour) blew up a storm, making £11.2 million / $13.6 million. At once dramatic and atmospheric, the painting was chased by three room bidders and a further four participants via Sotheby’s representatives on the phone for almost nine minutes. A striking piece from the celebrated Wolken series, it saw the legendary German artist explore the boundaries between painting and photography, abstraction and representation, nature and the sublime. Another artist who held the room spellbound with an equally-ethereal piece, drawing inspiration from the vastness of the natural world and distant horizons was Stanley Whitney, whose colour grid painting The Wild West made its auction debut, attracted serious bidding between six participants, before selling for £906,200 / $1.1 million (est. £300,000-400,000). “I was travelling across the country a lot, and going through landscapes... and that kind of landscape really influenced me' the artists said in 2020. 'That kind of openness in space, that kind of light… I really think of it as an American kind of space. A big open space. But it was all about landscape and I didn’t want it to be landscapes, I wanted it to be space'.
Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction, Christina Quarles, We Woke in Mourning Jus Tha Same
The night was dominated by a strong showing from female artists across the world. Anna Weyant’s Buffet, an delicious, Old Master-inspired still life, achieved £466,200 / $567,995 (est. £100,000-150,000), while an explosive bidding battle saw Christina Quarles’s coruscating painting, We Woke in the Mourning Jus Tha Same selling to a buyer in Asia for £529,200 / $644,751 (est. £350,000-450,000), in its auction debut.
The night was dominated by a strong showing from female artists across the world
An exceptional example of this hotly-acclaimed artist’s oeuvre – Quarles has been making a splash at the 2022 Venice Biennale - this piece reverberated with prismatic red, blue and yellow, punctuated with vivacious touches of black and neon. Depicting two kneeling figures, simultaneously connected and torn apart in an ambiguous emotional mixture of passion and agony, Christina Quarles’s contorted bodies draw heavily on the phantasmagoric Surrealist canvases of Salvador Dalí.
Another artist making waves at Venice is Simone Leigh, the American artist whose Pavilion at Venice has been causing a stir among critics and visitors. Here, she was represented by a 2014 sculpture Blue/Black, hotly pursued by five participants who took the final price to £617,400 / $752,209 (est. £200,000-300,000). A remarkably powerful work, it combines ancient and futuristic associations, materials and techniques, critically engaging with the converging histories of black emancipation, feminism, and Pan-African cultural legacies. In this work, the tenor and themes of the Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction were encapsulated beautifully – human experience and stories, inspired creativity and powerful messages. All combining in a riot of colour, forms, styles and voices.