T he Summer Season at Sotheby’s saw clients and specialists alike back in the London galleries and able to reconnect following the events of 2020. Evening sales of Modern & Contemporary Art had their most successful performance since 2018, totalling £156,247,871 ($217 million), and in the following week, Old Masters sales contributed to the highest worldwide year-to-date total in ten years at $175 million – with 70% of sold lots achieving prices over their high estimate.
Our creative partner for the season was British fashion designer Bella Freud, who took the helm on a series of events, performances and gallery takeovers throughout the newly-reopened New Bond Street galleries.
The jewel in the crown of the collaboration was the recreation of the infamous Colony Room Club for an evening of stories and anecdotes from the great and good of the London art world. Hosted in part by the inimitable Norman Rosenthal, participants were invited to share their tales from the heyday of the Soho drinking den to an assembled crowd of Britain’s finest artists, writers and fashion designers – all captured on film by Johnnie Shand Kydd. To commemorate this unique event, Freud also designed a limited edition T-shirt inspired by the landlady of the Colony Room Club’s famous greeting to her customers. Another event in the run-up to the sale was an evening of poetry in conjunction with London-based collective Apples & Snakes.
This celebration of the very best of British innovation, creativity and craftsmanship culminated in the inaugural British Art Evening Sale: Modern/Contemporary, which welcomed the return of guests to the saleroom once again. The auction also saw bidding from global locations through our award-winning livestream format, with auctioneer and Sotheby’s Chairman Oliver Barker hailing the innovative set-up as "the best of both worlds".
Watch Lucian Freud's portrait of David Hockney sell for £14,905,200
The sale was led by Lucian Freud’s masterful portrait of David Hockney that sold for £14.9 million after an energetic bidding from clients in the room and online. Joining the exceptional Freud were works by Peter Lanyon, whose Rising Air soared to £958,800, more than double its estimate, and Peter Doig’s ethereal winter scene, Blue Mountain, which climbed to a cool £5.4 million as bidders battled towards the final hammer. Several works by David Hockney himself also secured robust results, including Gladioli with Two Oranges from the collection of Mrs Elizabeth Corob, that doubled its pre-sale estimate to find a new owner for £4.2 million in its first appearance at auction.
L.S Lowry’s 1928 street scene, Going to the Match, gives us a rare glimpse of the artist’s first attempt at the subject matter that would go on to become a hallmark of his career. The atmospheric depiction of life in industrial Britain went on to achieve £2.9 million. Other highlights were Dame Madalene Odondu's beautifully elegant 1986 ceramic vase, Untitled, that set a new record for the artist at £378,000; and Frank Auerbach's arresting portrait, Head of Robert Hughes, that realised £302,400.
Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
A fter a short interval, the saleroom once again came alive with Helena Newman taking to the rostrum for the Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale. Wassily Kandinsky’s 1938 lyrical masterpiece, Tension Calmées, which sees the artist exploring his long-standing connection to music, was the star lot of the evening, rising to £21.2 million, and further reinforcing his status as the artist at the very pinnacle of abstraction. The painting last sold at Sotheby’s London in 1964 for £10,000.
Elsewhere in the sale, a number of works from an important private collection of Impressionist pastels were led by Edgar Degas’ Femme à sa toilette and Le bain which sold for £1.9 million and £2.7 million respectively. They were joined by two outstanding Renoir works La bohémienne and Femme à la rose, both appearing at auction for the first time since the 1980s.
Watch the moment Kandinsky's Tension Calmées hammers down at £21,224,700
Wassily Kandinsky Bidding Battle
A survey of Modern art would not be complete without Picasso, and his striking interpretation of a pair of lovers was no exception. Homme et femme au bouquet, which sold for £9.4 million, represents a period of intense creativity for Picasso, and this standout painting was created as the artist explored several new subject matters that would characterise his later years.
The Contemporary offerings in this cross-category sale also enjoyed huge success, with Cy Twombly’s breathtaking and dynamic abstract canvas, Untitled inspiring bids from across the globe, eventually hammering down at £7.8 million. Two exceptional examples of Andy Warhol’s screen print canvasses, Front and Back Dollar Bills and 9 Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series) sold for £6.8 million and £6.5 million respectively, demonstrating the continued strength for museum-quality works of this calibre at auction.
There were also a number of artists making their auction debut, such as Jadé Fadojutimi, who at 28 is the youngest artist in the Tate collection, and whose colourful tour de force I'm pirouetting the night away sold for £402,200. Fadojutimi was joined by a host of women artists, such as Julie Curtiss, Wangechi Mutu, Elizabeth Peyton and Beatriz Milhazes, who continue to show global enthusiasm for these important works in the auction market.
Banksy's Laugh Now added his trademark sense of subversion to proceedings, and seeing one of his rebellious iconic motifs alongside a similarly era-defining and experimental work such as Fernand Léger's Étude pour les constructeurs, proves artistic innovation will always have the power to challenge and thrill. The stencilled work went on to sell for £2.4 million. The relay sales made a combined total of £156,247,871 ($217 million), the strongest results for summer sales in Europe since 2018.
After the success of the evening sales, the day sales continued the proceedings with works by Picasso, Miró, Giacometti, Basquiat and Christo all achieving strong results and rising comfortably above their pre-sale estimates.
Top Ten Lots Sold
Our focus now turns to new collaborations including a gallery space opening in Monaco, which will play host to a number of events in the summer months. In London, The Showroom, fresh from launching the limited edition Bella Freud collaboration, plays host to Willer Gallery and a carefully curated selection of art, jewellery and design pieces, allowing visitors to purchase objects immediately when visiting the space in person, or to browse and shop items online.
Highlights include exquisite handwoven wool and silk throws by maverick environmental artist Claudy Jongstra, and of course, Bella Freud’s statement shirt – truly a new icon of art world, for those in the know.