Sotheby’s London Announces Modern and Post War British Sale Nov 15

Sotheby’s London announces its first Evening Auction of Modern and Post-War British Art on Tuesday 15h November 2011. The sale comprises 37 lots and is estimated to reach a combined total of £7.2 – £10.8 million. The auction features remarkable works by artists including Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, to be sold on behalf of The Dartington Hall Trust. Other highlights include important works by L.S. Lowry, Sir Stanley Spencer and what may be the first British depiction of a film crew at work in William Robert’s The Boxing Match circa 1919-1925.

Laurence Stephen Lowry R.A., Home from the pub, oil on canvas, 1944, estimate £400,000-£600,000. Photo: Sotheby’s.

James Rawlin, Sotheby’s Senior Director of Modern and Post-War British Art said: “This is a tremendously exciting selection of works, representing a roll call of many of the major names and movements of British Art from throughout the 20th Century. Many of these important works are appearing at auction for the first time and Sotheby’s is honoured to be offering for sale 40 works from the Dartington Hall Trust. Following the enormous success of Sotheby’s Evill/Frost sale in June, which set a new record for the work of Stanley Spencer at auction, we are delighted to be bringing two more key paintings by the artist to the market.”

In L.S. Lowry’s best paintings, he is able to combine the great and the small; the expansiveness of a view over a town, or the milling swell of a crowd, yet never loses sight of the individual, their quirks and idiosyncrasies. The Railway Platform of 1953, estimated at £1-1.5 million, amply demonstrates this genius. Lowry skilfully weaves a curving line along the platform and back, taking the viewer from each little vignette to the next, very much the way we might if we found ourselves on the opposite platform. But in a characteristic way, the artist suggests that unlike the busy figures opposite, engaged in interaction and activity, we are observing them from a solitary vantage point, kept at a distance by the drop to the tracks. Indeed, this work may mirror Lowry’s own life at the time. In 1952, at the age of 65, he had retired from the Pall Mall Property company. This image of commuters on a railway platform, in their repetitive everyday routines of working life, may suggest a rather wistful yearning to once more be involved in the world of work.

Appearing at auction for the first time, Lowry’s oil on canvas Home from the pub of 1944 is estimated at £400,000 – 600,000. What distinguishes this work from many in the artist’s oeuvre is that the figures depicted are so clearly enjoying a moment of happiness and freedom. Three women sway uneasily towards the viewer – one swinging her hat, the other waving a bottle. Their sense of exhilarated release is almost palpable and made even more poignant by its contrast with their drab surroundings. The existence of a slight preparatory drawing of the subject in a private collection indicates this was almost certainly a scene Lowry observed from life. The large scale of the women makes them very much the hub of the composition and it was at this stage in Lowry’s career that a preoccupation with exploring larger figures emerged – coinciding with his friendship with David Carr, a young painter who had begun to collect his work. Carr, who was a student at Cedric Morris’s East Anglian School of Painting, where he was a contemporary of Lucian Freud, offered Lowry a new perspective and exposure to the work of a younger generation of artists (Carrright, pictured with Lucian Freud). The painting was acquired by David Carr and comes to auction for the first time, by direct descent through the Carr family.

The sale features two important works by Stanley Spencer. Coming to auction for the first time, Beatitude 2: Knowing of 1937 (est. £600,000-£800,000) is one of a small series of eight highly charged paintings executed during a turbulent period following the artist’s divorce from his first wife Hilda Carline. These works represent a critical turning point in Spencer’s career, in which he realised human form and emotional content had no need to constrain each other in his work. By distorting his figure’s physiques to express his emotional response to their attitudes and interactions, Spencer produced some of his most powerful and extraordinary imagery. The painting depicts an imposing male figure with some of Spencer’s attributes, which may be interpreted as an attempt by the artist to re-assert himself from the low point he had reached in his emotional and physical state. The painting was exhibited in both of the Tate Gallery’s retrospectives of Spencer’s work in 1955 and 2001.

The remarkable 1935 oil on canvas Patricia at Cockmarsh Hill, can be considered to shed new light on the now familiar version of the Stanley-Hilda-Patricia triangle. The presence of Patricia Preece in Spencer’s work is almost always forceful, but in this work (est. £400,000-600,000) the artist seeks to depict her in a quite unique manner – as the embodiment of his beloved home town of Cookham. Unusually, he portrays Patricia in a relaxed pose, sitting in the sun in a field of long grasses and meadow flowers. Spencer wrote: “…I wanted this place to be as unobtrusively inhabited by Patricia whose hair was to join in the expression of the hot sultry summer sun as also I wished the necklet of diamonds and amethysts to mix and look as natural as purple thistles.”*Although still married to Hilda at this date, Spencer shows Patricia wearing two rings on the third finger of her left hand – a message that he already sees her as his future wife. Here the artist is showing us his vision of a place and person that are entwined in his mind as a symbol of something special. *The Artist, writings in Tate Gallery Archives 733.2.30.

William Robert’s oil on canvas Boxing Match, (estimated £200,000-300,000) executed 1919-1925, presents an image that still feels strikingly modern more than 80 years after it was painted. The subject matter was a favourite of Roberts, and one which allowed him to demonstrate his ability to distil the action and excitement of a complicated figure group at a moment of drama. The gestures and expressions of all the protagonists are observed with a perfect eye for nuance, the rendition of tiredness, exhilaration and activity are masterful. Possibly the only early oil painting of the subject by Roberts still in private hands, it also includes the extremely rare presentation of a film crew at work – something that appears to have little or no parallel in British Art of the period and thus marks it as a quite remarkable example of his work.

The sale features a strong Post-War section:
Appearing at auction for the first time, a unique and extremely rare 1950 mobile by Lynn Chadwick is estimated to reach £150,000-250,000. Chadwick’s first foray into sculpture involved experiments in motion. In 1950, he launched his career by exhibiting 14 of these mobile constructions at his first one-man exhibition at Gimpel Fils in London and few pieces displaying the intricacy and quality of this slate, wire and metal work remain. Mobiles were the medium through which Chadwick learnt to understand sculpture and this important example captures both the architectural and sculptural aspects which define this formative period, before he ventured on to more monumental works.

One of the most important works by Sir Terry Frost to appear at auction, Red, Black and White, Leeds, 1955, encapsulates the artist’s ability to bring together differing strands of thought on the development of abstraction, in a manner quite unique from his contemporaries. Frost responded strongly to the Yorkshire landscape and the characteristic colours and forms that began to appear within a short time of his arrival in Leeds, led to images that are very distinct from his time in Cornwall. His sense of being much more involved and dwarfed by a landscape become evident and his compositions take on a panoramic feel. Red, Black and White, Leeds, 1955 is perhaps the best-known example of a group of important paintings that mark this new period of inspiration. Acquired directly from Frost by the artist T.L. Johnson in the early 1960s and exhibited in the Royal Academy’s retrospective of Frost’s career in 2000, the work is estimated at £150,000-250,000.

In 1960, Peter Lanyon took up gliding and his oil on canvas, Down Wind of the same year (estimated at £80,000-£120,000) reveals his new air-borne experience of the world and a fascination with the elemental forces of the weather. Three years earlier Lanyon had travelled to New York for his first US exhibition and had been deeply influenced by the work and personalities of the Abstract Expressionists. It ushered in a new expansiveness and sense of space in his work, bringing the gestures that created the work to the fore. Works of this period are characterised by a brighter and simplified palette with fresher blues, greens and yellows becoming more dominant. Down Wind exemplifies Lanyon’s new bolder manner and his passionate concern with meteorological phenomena was one that occupied the artist until his untimely death in 1964. Fresh to the market, the work comes from the family of Thomas Baker Slick Jr.

The sale also features an outstanding group of works from the School of London group.

Frank Auerbach’s 1971 oil on board, Head of Gerda Boehm is estimated at £180,000-250,000. Gerda, Auerbach’s cousin, sat for him a number of times between 1961 and 1982. The portraits provide considerable insight into Auerbach’s varied working methods and styles. In contrast to the largely monochromatic palettes he used in her other portraits, this work is striking for its bold flash of red paint. This, coupled with the strong, angular brushwork results in one of Auerbach’s most powerful, and psychologically intriguing representations of Gerda. The paint surface is built up in sculptural layers of impasto and Auerbach has used thick black marks to delineate the sitter’s features, a notable technique of the period.

One of Auerbach’s earliest portraits, Portrait of Philip Holmes is also offered for sale. Estimated at £80,000-120,000, the work was executed in 1953, in the formative period while Auerbach was attending the Royal College of Art and attending David Bomberg’s classes twice a week.

Following the record set for a work by Leon Kossoff at its Contemporary Evening sale on October 13th 2011, Sotheby’s is delighted to offer Kossoff’s Bus Stop Willesden of 1983, which belongs to a series of works Kossoff commenced during the 1980s which depict his native area of North London.** Executed on a grand scale, the works are a celebration of the urban environment in which the banal and commonplace are transformed into visually exciting subjects. This monumental oil on board (estimated at £250,000-350,000) is an exemplary painting from the series, revealing the best of Kossoff’s long term artistic engagement with the city’s urban landscape. He explained: “London, like the paint I use seems to be on my bloodstream. It’s always moving – the skies, the streets, the buildings, the people that walk past me when I draw, have become part of my life.” (Kossoff cited in Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, Leon Kossoff, 1996, p.36.)

The Modern and Post-War British Art Day Sale on 16th November features the most exceptional group of Wyndham Lewis watercolours and drawings ever to be offered for sale at auction. Coming from an important British collector, the works range in date from 1910 – 1949 and are estimated to fetch a combined total in excess of £270,000.

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