The artist was living in the Dordogne when he died four years ago and his daughter cleared his studio and bought back his remaining collection to England. Unable to store it any longer, it was decided to exhibit the 42 works at Dreweatts’ London showroom in Pall Mall and then offer them as a group in a dedicated sale.
“Works by Tippett are exceptionally rare as most customers that buy a work hold on to them, so few pieces by the artist have been offered at auction”, said Dreweatts’ senior specialist of Modern and Contemporary art Will Porter.
“As auctioneers, we’re interested in building the markets of artists who have fallen out of the limelight. Sometimes their work remains interesting and innovative but they have not had the commercial backing to elevate their status. Bruce’s work is a wonderful example of this.”
Four over £3000
Overall on the day 34 lots sold online for a hammer total of just under £40,000. Most of the works were purchased by private collectors or dealers buying for their own personal collections, said Porter. Before the sale, no work by Tippett had fetched more than £3000 but here four works exceeded this level.
Six decades of Tippett’s career were represented in the auction and the highest prices tended to come for his 1960s abstract pieces.
A work titled Item 17, 1963 led the sale. The large acrylic and wood on canvas demonstrated how, in the decade after he graduated from the Slade in 1957, Tippett’s works drifted more towards pure abstraction and he started adopting more varied materials.
Measuring 5ft 8in x 2ft 10in (1.72m x 86cm), Item 17, 1963 was deemed an innovative work, the like of which he sold through The Betty Parsons Gallery in New York and the Kasmin Gallery in London, and were later used for displays created by the influential interior designer David Hicks.
The unframed work was offered with a £2000-3000 estimate and was knocked down at £10,000 after a strong competition, a significant auction record for the artist.
A few lots later, an example of Tippett’s roll-top paintings that were inspired by the American Abstract Expressionists and which Hicks incorporated into his interior commissions was offered with a £3000-5000 pitch. This type of work comprised an acrylic on canvas but with a piece of painted wood rolled into the top section – a unique feature developed by the artist as he explored the idea of a painting as an object or a three-dimensional work in its own right.
This piece, Untitled (Blue Target), 5ft 1in x 4ft 11in (1.55 x 1.5m), again drew keen interest to sell at £4600.
A rather different proposition was a folding screen with five panels painted in colourful acrylic. A later piece that was signed and dated 1982, it sold above an £800-1200 guide, fetching £2200.
Reflecting on the collection, Porter said: “I believe that the works sold so well because we were able to tell the story of Bruce Tippett and his career. We were able to illustrate through the museum collections that hold his work and the galleries that represented him that he is an artist who, despite falling off the artworld radar, deserves to be reassessed.”