When it comes to Modern and Contemporary sales, sculpture has been making its presence felt more heavily over the last five to 10 years.
If you pick up an auction catalogue from a recent sale in this sector and compare it to an equivalent one from over a decade ago, not only will you see more sculpture lots on offer in what was previously a market more heavily tilted towards paintings, but also their contribution by value to many of these events has increased by an even greater amount.
Among the recent sales reflecting this was Lyon & Turnbull’s (26%/25% buyer’s premium) latest Modern Made sale at Mall Galleries in London on October 28.
Sculptures played a prominent role with a number of bringing either strong bidding contests or high prices, or both.
L&T’s head of sale Philip Smith said: “The current state of the market is strong and dynamic, and has been growing in stature over the last decade, benefiting from changing tastes including the popularity of sculpture parks.
“Our own sales, such as Modern Made, reflect this growing appreciation, and the importance of three-dimensional art is reflected in the strong prices we are achieving for Modern British, European and American sculpture when presented in the right context. We’re passionate about growing this field and area of expertise.”
More mini Mitoraj
Collectors of sculptures tend to judge individual lots based on form, patination and how much the subject ‘resonates’ or stands out in a modern interior (or exterior in terms of outdoor sculpture). One of the lots bringing competition at L&T was a bronze titled Argos by the Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj (1944-2014).
Part of an edition of eight from 1987, it was an example from a series of works depicting figures with bandaged heads that was a key part of his oeuvre. One of the most famous is Testa Addormentata from 1983 which is on public display outside West Wintergarden in London’s Canary Wharf.
The figure at L&T was much smaller, measuring 15½in (40cm) high, and was a diminutive sculpture by the standards of Mitoraj who tended to work on a monumental scale.
Paolozzi seven up
The L&T auction also featured seven sculptural works by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), six of which sold for a hammer total of £55,900.
All bar one had formerly been part of the collection of British furniture and interior designer Zeev Aram who died in March last year.
The great variety of Paolozzi’s three-dimensional output means prices for the Scottish pop art pioneer’s sculptures fall across a wide range. Here a classical foot and hand, both cast in plaster, were offered separately with guides of £600-800 but sold for £800 and £1000 respectively.
Requiring a higher bid to secure it was a small untitled abstract sculpture that was believed to be unique.
Dating from c.1967-9, the polished bronze form measured 11½in (30cm) high including the wooden base and was stamped with the Noack Berlin foundry mark. It was an unusual work to emerge – most of his many sculptures consist of Paolozzi’s trademark combination of machinery and humanoid forms – although one small untitled metal abstract with a vague similarity to the current work did appear at Sotheby’s in 2005, selling at £3000.
While it cannot have been an easy work to estimate, L&T’s pitch proved accurate when, against predictions of £3000-5000, it sold at £4400 to a UK private buyer.
The top-selling Paolozzi lot was a later work but again highly unusual in the artist’s canon. Sculptor’s Chair from 1987 was an extraordinary construction made from numerous materials: beech, birch plywood, rope, linen, nylon cord, metal hooks and nails. It even featured miniature Christmas cracker plastic tools contained within one of the panelled wooden boxes.
Paolozzi stated: “It is a chair, it is a toolbox, I made it from orange crates. The backrest hangs on the wall to make shelves. The boxes pull out for a bed.”
It was commissioned by Zeev Aram for the show that celebrated the 23rd anniversary exhibition of his company Aram Designs (other works by artists such as Peter Blake, Allen Jones, Norman Foster and Jasper Morrison also featured). In the catalogue for that exhibition Paolozzi wrote that he intended the basic wooden forms to have “an improvised look” that was a nod to the early still life constructions of Picasso or Rodchenko.
Although an atypical production, the fact that it was a highly personal work – as well as a statement piece, or certainly a talking point at least – meant it drew considerable interest against the £8000- 12,000 estimate.
After an eager contest, it was knocked down at £24,000 to a UK buyer.
Push the boundaries
Some good action also came the week before among the 20 sculptures on offer at Dreweatts’ (25% buyer’s premium) Modern and Contemporary art auction on October 19.
Head of sale Francesca Whitham said: “The market for Modern and Contemporary sculpture has been on an upwards trajectory over the last five to 10 years.
“Confidence has continued to grow among collectors to push the boundaries of opportunity by extending their collecting habits past pictures into three-dimensional, tangible objects which complement their collection and tastes.”
One work that exemplified these trends was a small bronze titled Poldhu by British abstract sculptor Denis Mitchell (1912-93).
The St Ives sculptor has witnessed a rise in demand not unlike that of fellow proponent of Cornish abstraction Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-75), albeit further down the price scale.
The 6¼in (17cm) circular form on a slate base here was part of an edition of seven from 1980.
The title refers to an area in south Cornwall near the Lizard Peninsula which has a sweeping cove and green fields beyond. It is now a popular beach sought out by tourists in the summer.
Artprice records just one sale at auction of this edition: an example that fetched £7500 at Bonhams in 2013. The vendor had purchased this one from London dealership Flowers Gallery in 2016 and here it was estimated at £4000-6000.
After bringing decent interest it sold at £8000 to a UK private buyer.
The price, although lower than the 2013 sum when taking inflation into account, was the second highest for one of Mitchell’s sculptures on this scale. The highest remains the £11,000 for Variations on a Theme No. II, part of an edition of nine, that sold at David Lay last December.
An earlier bronze at the auction that also sold to a private buyer was a cast of Jacob Epstein’s (1880-1959) Fourth Portrait of Dolores which took £4200. It was estimated at £4000-6000.
The head study was conceived in 1923 – the fourth of six studies made by Epstein of the famous artist’s model known as Dolores (her real name was Norine Fournier Lattimore).
One example from this fourth edition had made £8000 at Sotheby’s in 2016 but this one had some rubbing, loss and glue residue to the marble base and the head was free-standing rather than ‘floating’ on a support as was the case with the Sotheby’s version.
Nevertheless, examples of this work do not appear at auction very often and it fetched the second-highest sum for the edition according to Artprice.