A notable feature of the regional auction market this year has been the number of works by eastern European artists bringing demand.
Although Russian artists often dominate in London sales, works by Romanian and Polish painters proved sought after at provincial sales in May and June (see ATG No 2500).
More recently further pictures by artists from other countries in the region generated strong competition. These included a large and striking composition by Hungarian artist Laszlo Bornemisza (1916-95) that made a rare appearance at Batemans (20% buyer’s premium) of Stamford on September 11.
It came from the estate of the late Doreen Kern (1931-2021), a sculptor and artist who lived in Edgware in London and who had hung the painting in her large studio built on the side of her house.
Titled Città del Nord, the auction house described it as “a visually arresting and physically imposing piece of art”. The 2ft 2in x 5ft 10in (1.28 x 1.78m) oil and mixed media on board was unsigned but came with a gallery receipt dated 1970 from the Arno art gallery in Florence (it had been purchased for $605, about £250). Also helping add reliability to the attribution, it was accompanied by an exhibition booklet which included an image of the painting.
Born in Tiszadada in the great plains of eastern Hungary, Bornemisza first became a writer and worked as a war correspondent in Lviv during the Second World War. During this time he decided to dedicate himself to the visual arts and enrolled at the Academy of Painting in Kraków, later moving to Budapest and helping found The Free Trade Union of Artists.
In the 1960s he rose to the forefront of Hungarian art, exhibiting in Poland, Italy, Finland and Sweden, and today works can be found in several Hungarian and foreign museums, especially in Scandinavia where he had successful exhibitions.
Bornemisza’s distinctive style has variously been described as a fusion of the imagination and reality, sometimes with a childlike or fairytale style of imagery. According to the above-mentioned exhibition booklet, his works also give a nod to the Old Masters such as Breughel and Bosch as well as Surrealists like Ensor.
The current work was certainly in keeping with a many of his brightly coloured and meticulously painted townscapes which have appeared at auctions in Hungary, Germany and the US but rarely in the UK.
Città del Nord was given a £400-600 estimate but drew strong interest from overseas bidders which carried it well over this level. Managing director of the auction house Greg Bateman said: “Via the wonder of internet catalogues it was found by just the right people.”
With a number of absentee bids, three online bidders and two on the phone from Hungary, it drew a dramatic contest and was knocked down at £7000 to a gallery in Budapest via thesaleroom.com. It appears to be one of the highest prices for the artist, and almost certainly the highest at a UK auction.