School of London Paintings for Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Auction

Sotheby’s London announced that its Contemporary Art Evening Auction on Monday, June 28, 2010 will present collectors with a one-off opportunity to acquire some of the best Post-War and Contemporary artworks by the venerated and highly sought-after School of London artists Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, as well as Paula Rego and Patrick Heron (all born in the inter-war years between 1920 and 1935). These eight paintings of exceptional quality and historic significance come from a distinguished private collection and are estimated to realise in excess of £3,350,000.


Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning by Frank Auerbach (b. 1931). Estimate: £1.5-2 million. Photo: Sotheby’s

Discussing the collection, Oliver Barker, Senior Director and Senior International Specialist, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department, commented: “The appearance on the market of this outstanding group, which showcases pieces by pioneering and celebrated School of London artists, marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors and connoisseurs of British Art and an extremely special auction moment. The contributions these artists have made to the changing landscape of Contemporary Art are being fundamentally re-evaluated, and these works are highlights of careers that are increasingly recognised for the true extent of their profound significance and influence.”

This sale of this exceptional offering follows widespread focus on the extraordinary outputs of Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach, Paula Rego and Patrick Heron, through acclaimed international exhibitions: Lucian Freud: L’Atelier, currently at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Frank Auerbach: London Building Sites at the Courtauld Gallery, London in 2009; Leon Kossoff: Drawing from Painting at the National Gallery, London in 2007; the Paula Rego retrospective at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid also in 2007; as well as the major publication of Auerbach’s catalogue raisonné last year.

This remarkable group of works attests artistic endeavours that have shaped the visual culture of our era, and stand as testament to a generation of astonishing talent. As illustrated by the pieces in the collection, the work is characterised by a recurring and cyclical approach to subject matter. There is also a shared fascination with the material of paint and each of these artists has developed an idiosyncratic and immediately recognisable language. These works reveal the earliest inception of genius in Freud’s Memory of London; the most daring and innovative search for new forms of expression in Heron’s October Horizon: October 1957; a skilful rendition of newly resolved subject and style in Rego’s Untitled; the archetypal analysis of experienced landscape in Kossoff’s King’s Cross, March Afternoon; and the fully resolved masterpiece of a mature dialect in Auerbach’s Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning.

Highlighting the collection is Frank Auerbach’s (b.1931) Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning. Exhibiting a stunning array of vibrant hues and a striking topography of oil paint loaded onto the canvas, the work is a sublime example of the landscapes for which Frank Auerbach is celebrated as one of the greatest British painters working today. It is central to a grand cycle of works that depict the archetypal vista of Auerbach’s London, of which comparable examples are held in major museum collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The painting is among the largest of the artist’s canvases ever to appear at auction and delivers a uniquely fulfilling and enthralling visual experience. Close to the Camden studio in which he has worked since taking it over from Leon Kossoff in 1954, the subject of Mornington Crescent has continued to fascinate Auerbach for over forty years. Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning is rooted in both a geographical and psychological place with the result that it is more than a representation. In the hands of Frank Auerbach, Mornington Crescent becomes a gloriously tactile and profoundly affecting entity in its own right. The painting is estimated at £1.5-2 million.

Also headlining the group is an exceptionally early oil on canvas painting by Lucian Freud (b. 1922) entitled Memory of London, of 1939-40, which is historically significant and inaugurates many of the characteristics that have subsequently defined his artistic career. The painting captures on canvas the young artist’s deep sense of longing for the excitements of the metropolis. It was executed while Freud was in remote North Wales, far from the capital, and renting a miner’s cottage at Capel Curig together with his fellow student at the time David Kentish. Memory of London, estimated at £500,000-700,000, hints at the sense of displacement of a double exile – at this moment Freud was an émigré of Nazi Germany and also of the city he would later make his home. The Freuds had abandoned their well-to-do existence in Berlin in the late summer of 1933, departing the early horror of Hitler’s Nazi regime that had escalated following his accession as German Chancellor in January of that year. Momentous events in the artist’s life resulted in his decision that autumn to voyage to the mountainous seclusion of North Wales, and provide ample analytical architecture to interpret the complex and loaded work Memory of London. Its layers of oil paint represent the earliest formation of the artist’s painterly language, while the lone protagonist is a foremost example of Freud’s capacity to reveal the inner psyche of his subjects.

Works in the collection by Leon Kossoff (b. 1926) include his outstanding 1998 oil on panel landscape King’s Cross, March Afternoon, (est. £250,000-350,000), one of the largest works by the artist ever to appear for public sale, and an archetype of his repetitive focus on familiar subject matter. The panel is loaded with a colossal accumulation of paint and recounts his expressive and visceral working practice. This masterful paradigm of his output is joined by the 1968 oil on panel Nude on Red Bed No. 1 (est. £70,000-90,000), an especially intimate and evocative demonstration of his analysis of psychological and physical human form.

Paula Rego’s (b. 1935) work Untitled, estimated at £350,000-450,000, is composed of an exhilarating display of visceral mark-making engrained in pastel on canvas – a medium Rego has chosen to work exclusively in since 1993 – and is one of the most arresting depictions of the isolated figure from this most important period in her oeuvre. The work was executed in 1995, at a pivotal moment when the artist was between major cycles. The artist’s friend Lila Nunes was enlisted by Rego to pose for the present work, continuing to bring the terrific sense of anatomical drama and palpable animalism that had enabled Rego to explore hidden truths of womanhood through bestiality in her previous series Dog Woman. The solidity of the model’s form is distinctly palpable and tactile through the heavily-worked, built-up layers of pastel. The surface texture, at once evincing both waxy and chalky qualities, has been endlessly plied by Rego to reveal the corporeal character of her subject.

First exhibited in a groundbreaking show at the Redfern Gallery, London in February 1958, Patrick Heron’s (1920-1999) oil on canvas October Horizon: October 1957, is a historic work that belongs to a crucial turning point in the development of post-war Abstract art in Britain and the artist’s career. With striped fields of vibrant chromatic intensity overlaid on top of each other and their respective pigments seeping into one another, the work encapsulates a courageous and unprecedented working method. Heron had experimented with pure abstraction as early as 1952, but maintained a figurative foundation to his painting until at least January 1956. Thereafter he began to develop a language of strokes of pure colour which moved away from a definite subject. The visual impact of the palette in October Horizon: October 1957 is remarkable and close inspection of the surface sees Heron working in an equally radical way. Over half a century since they were painted, Heron’s ‘Stripe’ paintings are now receiving the recognition they deserve. The auction appearance of October Horizon: October 1957, which carries an estimate of £250,000-350,000, offers collectors an extremely rare chance to acquire a superb example of this body of work which has such significance for British abstraction in the post-war period.

Further works in the collection by Frank Auerbach include his 1999 oil on panel Head of Jake, which represents the first occasion that a titled painting of the artist’s son has been offered at auction (est. £180,000-250,000); and his oil on canvas Portrait of William Feaver, executed in 2005-2006 (est. £250,000-350,000).

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