Before his death aged 94 in May, the highest price among the handful of works that had come to the secondary market was seemingly the £420 for an Abstract sold at David Duggleby in December 2018.
However, a major group of works was offered at Oxford saleroom Mallams (25% buyer’s premium) on July 28. Coming directly from the late artist’s studio, the group of 94 lots represented the first real chance to test demand.
Kay was born in Southport and had studied at Liverpool School of Art and subsequently at the Royal Academy in London in 1948-49.
He went to Paris in the mid-1950s after gaining a French government scholarship to painting at the Académie Ranson and etching at the Atelier Friedlaender. Later meeting artists like Maurice Esteve in the South of France, he continued to develop an Abstract Expressionist style that was much in evidence at the Mallams sale and clearly remains admired by followers.
While Kay kept painting throughout his life, the sale featured some of his early works which provided the highest prices, including a few produced while he attended the Liverpool and Royal Academy schools.
The top lot was a large painting from 1951 titled Blue Red Triad. The 4ft x 5ft 8in (1.22 x 1.72m) signed oil on canvas drew hefty competition against a £200-300 estimate and was knocked down at £9000, a sum that established a new benchmark for Kay at auciton.
Other works from the 1950s also brought considerable competition. Moon Pull Pale Blue, a 4ft x 5ft (1.23 x 1.52m) oil on board which signed and dated 1958, had featured in an exhibition of works by Northern artists organised by The Arts Council. Here the estimate was £300-500 and it was knocked down at £8000. Two other works from the same year met a strong response. Black, White Through Blue sold for £4400 (estimate £200-300) and Elevated took £4000 (£100-200).