As with the Contemporary art auctions in London earlier in the week, the sale did not witness any apparent reduction in bidding due to the result of last week’s EU referendum in Britain. In fact, some overseas bidders went to greater lengths to secure works thanks in part to more favourable exchange rates due to the drop in value of the pound.
Christie’s Global President and auctioneer at the sale Jussi Pylkkänen said: “We saw global participation tonight with strong bidding from the Americas.”
The latest cross-category sale held by the auctioneers followed their approach in New York last year where they staged two new themed auctions starting with Looking Forward to the Past in May and then The Artist's Muse in November. These ‘curated’ sales are set to continue at Christie’s but it remains to be seen if rivals Sotheby’s will follow suit.
The London sale featured a much wider breadth of works than the New York events which were dominated by 20th century material. Even so, the six of the top ten lots still came from this sector.
Multiple phone bidders competed for the large Henry Moore (1898-1986) bronze Reclining Figure: Festival, commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1951. It came from an American vendor who had purchased it back in 1968 from the Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York and it appeared here with a £15m-20m estimate.
Cast in an edition of five plus one artist's proof, another version had fetched £17m at Christie’s back in February 2012. Eclipsing that figure last night as it was knocked down to a bidder on the phone represented in the room by Brett Gorvy, Christie’s worldwide chairman for postwar and contemporary art, the price was a record for any British sculpture.
Cyanne Chutkow, Christie's deputy chairman of Impressionist & Modern art, said: “Reclining Figure: Festival is one of the great masterpieces of Moore's oeuvre and is arguably his most masterful and elegant sculptural synthesis of form and space.”
Bacon at £18m
A bidder with the same paddle number also secured Francis Bacon’s (1909-1992) Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe from 1968. It was estimated ‘in the region of £20m’ but was knocked down at £18m.
A fairly uncommon example of a female nude in Bacon’s oeuvre, the subject is thought to be based in part on a photograph of Henrietta Moraes, one the artist’s companions from Soho’s Colony Club.
The price fell shy of the £19m seen for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) at Christie’s London in May 2012, and well below the $47.8m (£30.4m) premium-inclusive price paid for the same picture in May 2015 at Christie’s New York.
While another big-ticket lot, Lucian Freud’s (1922-2011) Ib and her husband was unsold with an estimate was ‘in the region of £18m’, a full-scale oil sketch by John Constable (1776-1837) managed to get away just above the lower end of expectations. View on the River Stour near Dedham had an estimate ‘in the region of’ £12m-16m but had a symbol in the catalogue denoting that it carried a third-party guarantee.
The auctioneers said it was being sold by a private lady who bought it over 20 years ago and that it had been in the UK since it last changed hands. This was its first appearance at auction since it sold at Christie’s back in 1883.
The 4ft 3in x 6ft 1in (1.29 x 1.85m) oil on canvas dated from c.1821-22 and depicted the stretch of the River Stour upstream from Flatford Mill and Lock. Christie’s billed it as the last of the artist’s great six-foot sketches to remain in private hands.
The auction record for Constable stands at £20m – a sum fetched in July 2012 when Christie’s sold The Lock, another of the artist's celebrated series of large-scale paintings of life on the Stour. That famous painting came from the Thyssen Bornemisza collection and Sotheby’s sold a later version of the same picture for £8m last December.
Another highlight of the sale that failed to generate the hoped-for competition was Golden Hours, a 1864 painting by Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896) which was estimated at £3m-5m. Billed as a ‘pivotal masterpiece of British Aestheticism’, the 2ft 8in x 4ft 1in (80cm x 1.25m) oil on canvas was appearing at auction for the first time in 100 years.
It sold at £2.85m, a record for the artist and a strong price despite what bidders clearly felt was a punchy estimate.
The London auction market will now shift its focus to Old Masters. Among the highlights at next week’s series of sales is Sir Peter Paul Rubens' Lot and his Daughters (c.1613-1614) which Christie’s have estimated ‘in excess of £20m’.