Rowan Pelling's Guide to Erotic Art

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Launch Slideshow

From her early days editing the Erotic Review to her advice columns for GQ and The Telegraph, journalist and broadcaster Rowan Pelling has built a career talking about sex. Here she guides us through Sotheby’s upcoming auction, Erotic: Passion & Desire, devoted to the sensual realm.

WARNING Please be advised that this sale includes images of nudity and images of a sexual nature which some viewers may consider indecent.

Erotic: Passion & Desire
16 February | London

 

Rowan Pelling's Guide to Erotic Art

  • George Grosz, Erotic Scene. Estimate £7,000–10,000.
    "One of the great social documenters of the 20th century, Grosz depicted prostitutes, brothels and scenes of untrammelled sexuality, helping form our vision of the underbelly of the Weimar Republic."

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  • An exceptional carved mahogany bed, second half 19th-century.
    Estimate £500,000–800,000.
    "This ravishing Second Empire French bed seems expressly fashioned for its owner to enact baroque fantasies. It’s crafted from Cuban mahogany, chased around by wild swans, topped by a naked nymph and believed to have been commissioned for the celebrated courtesan La Païva for her mansion on the Champs-Élysées."

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  • Jacques Loysel, La Grande Névrose, circa 1896.
    Estimate £120,000–180,000.
    "La Grande Névrose transcends the cold, still quality of marble. The nude is almost unbearably alive and intimate as she arches her back and writhes in ecstasy. The sculpture is acclaimed as Loysel’s finest work and he guarded it jealously, keeping it with him in his studio throughout his lifetime."

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  • Pablo Picasso, Nu (Nude), 1971. Estimate £120,000–180,000.
    "This spare, intense sketch matches Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde in its profoundly carnal vision of womanhood. It is hard to look at and even harder to look away from."

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  • Georgy Gurianov, After the Battle. Estimate £8,000–12,000.
    "Gurianov was a drummer in the seminal Russian rock band Kino, so there’s a playful anarchy to his artworks. He gives a puckish nod to the classicism of ancient Greek sculpture, but the gaze here is defiantly homoerotic: an electrifying celebration of the male physique."

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  • César, Le Plat. Estimate £20,000– 30,000.
    "Sex shouldn’t be a joke, but the greatest wits can conjure up the act with audacious good humour. Neo-realist César Baldaccini’s ornamental bowl strikes a pitch-perfect balance between playful, bawdy and elegant. It’s not until you look closely that you see the work is formed of black phalluses. Who wouldn’t long to fill such a vessel with fruit and leave it casually on their sideboard?"

  • Wim Delvoye, Pipe 1. Estimate £6,000–8,000.
    "Belgian shock-jock Wim Delvoye's Pipe 1 is another work of piercing visual wit. An innocent-seeming X-ray reveals itself, on closer inspection, to be skeletal lovers engaging in thoroughly gothic oral sex. It is explicit and yet not voyeuristic, because the identities of the subjects are shrouded It gives the lie to Andrew Marvell’s famous line, "The grave’s a fine and private place/ But none, I think, do there embrace.""

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  • A Roman Marble Torso of Pan, circa 2nd Century A.D.
    Estimate £40,000–60,000.
    "For a lightning-bolt of pure, pagan sensuality, it’s hard to beat the Roman torso of Pan . History does not reveal the Roman hand that chiselled this muscle-bound, goat-legged, priapic god of all things untamed – but he was clearly was an expert in inciting lust. It’s the rear view that entrances with this virile torso: the almost obscenely-pronounced buttocks and hands bound behind his back. Even supernatural powers have not saved him from bondage."

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  • Egon Schiele, Akt (Nude). Estimate £180,000–250,000.
    "Few artists begin to match Egon Schiele for conjuring up a world of sprawled-limb, wanton sexuality. With the most economic of lines, Schiele breathed sultry life into siren after siren. I love the red splash of hair on this nude’s mons Venue and the equally generous crop under her outstretched arms. She seems caught between one episode of lovemaking and the next – as doubtless she was at the moment she was sketched."

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  • Man Ray, Exposition Coloniale Internationale. Estimate £50,000–70,000.
    Like all history’s finest illusionists, Man Ray deceives our eyes in plain sight. This photo is sexy, brutal and discombobulating all at the same time: a naked woman under assault from some rude, robotic probe, which rearranges itself to pubic hair and common-or-garden hairdryer. The supposed violation becomes voluntary and, perhaps, self-pleasuring. And the quality of the print is superb.

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