Sotheby’s recently announced the sale entitled John Richardson: A Scholar Collects, a unique collection of more than 50 paintings, works on paper, sculptures, and prints spanning contemporary art, Old Masters, modern art, and more from the renowned art historian and award-winning biographer of Pablo Picasso.
Among the many remarkable works in Richardson’s collection are pieces he received personally from many of the leading luminaries of 20th-century art, such as Picasso, Lucian Freud, Andy Warhol, and Georges Braque. The collection is comprised of works from Richardson’s Fifth Avenue loft, noted for its aristocratically bohemian interiors that mixed antiquities with modern and contemporary art for a uniquely eclectic style, and was recently chronicled in John Richardson: At Home (Rizzoli, 2019) with photography by François Halard.
The sale series will kick off with a special single-lot Prints & Multiples auction of Andy Warhol’s 1975 portrait of The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger (inscribed by Warhol “To John R”), which is set to take place in September. The sale series will then continue throughout the fall at Sotheby’s New York and London. There will also be a corresponding sale of furniture, decorative items and other objet d’art from Richardson’s Fifth Avenue home by STAIR on 17 September.
In addition, an oil portrait of Richardson painted by Freud went on view at Sotheby’s New Bond Street Galleries in London through 28 July. The portrait was a gift of the Richardson Estate to the American Friends of the National Portrait Gallery, who hope to lend the work to the National Portrait Gallery, London. The work was painted by Freud in 1998, and further spotlights their longstanding friendship.
Benjamin Doller, Sotheby’s Chairman, Americas, commented: “John Richardson was at the very centre of 20th-century art, and his collection is not only a reflection of his creative sensibility, as such a central figure in the art world for decades, but the works he lived with each tell a remarkable story of the close relationships he had with so many renowned artists. His personal collection brims with the intimacy of these connections. It’s an honour and a thrill to share these works and their unique stories, as well as to preserve John’s legacy as a friend and steward of the artists that defined generations.”
Hannah Rothschild, author, arts patron and philanthropist, documentary filmmaker, and longtime friend of Richardson, said: “John Richardson was a man of ravenous appetites, prodigious curiosity and impeccable taste with a magpie-like eye. These attributes are reflected in his style of collecting—where else could you find a Lucian
Freud self-portrait hung alongside a Picasso drawing in a room with a feather boa resting on a cushion made from an 18th-century scrap of material found in a Paris flea market? John did everything with panache and a sense of playfulness, and he carefully curated his collection to showcase it in a thought-provoking way.”
Margaret Conklin, President of the American Friends of the National Portrait Gallery said: “We are extremely grateful to the John Richardson Estate for generously gifting us Lucian Freud’s portrait of his lifelong friend, and are delighted it will be on public display at Sotheby’s.”
JOHN RICHARDSON: A SCHOLAR COLLECTS
Encompassing contemporary art, Old Master paintings, Impressionist and Modern art, prints, works on paper, sculpture, and much more, the collection of John Richardson reveals his great eye and impeccable taste. Best known for his three-volume biography of Picasso, Richardson was also an accomplished art dealer and auction house executive who for years was a pivotal figure in the New York art world. Passing away at the age of 95 in 2019, he left behind a lifetime’s worth of art and objects that form his storied art collection, which was amassed over the course of his varied career and wide-ranging travels. Known for his unparalleled style, Richardson’s collection reflects his instinctive taste and innate ability to pair art across the category, time, and medium, as he remarked to writer James Reginato for At Home: “I mix things, and they galvanize each other.”
Among the highlights on offer from the Richardson collection is a series of six prints, primarily lithographs and linoleum cuts, by Pablo Picasso dating from 1945 to 1961. The prints demonstrate Picasso’s intuitive and characteristic ability to recognize and exploit the possibilities inherent in any medium in which he chose to work.
Exploring themes of bullfights, bacchanalia, still lifes, female heads and figure studies, Picasso worked alongside the printer Hidalgo Arnéra to revolutionize the medium and achieve unparalleled mastery in a series of brilliantly coloured and richly textured works on paper. Leading the series is Picador et Taureau (estimate $25,000 – $35,000), a 1959 linoleum cut printed in black and shades of brown that dramatically depicts a bullfight. The print is #43 of an edition of 50, and is personally inscribed from Picasso to Richardson: “pour mon cher ami John Richardson / Picasso / 19.11.60.” The print was gifted to Richardson by Picasso in 1960, the year he left the south of France, where he lived since 1952 and befriended the artist.
The collection also features Lucian Freud’s Self Portrait: Reflection (estimate $70,000 – $100,000), which is the only etched self-portrait by the artist and was lovingly dedicated by Freud to John Richardson: “John with love from Lucian.” It is a somber, unflinching and unidealized depiction of the artist. The clever application of deep, sweeping lines down Freud’s neck draws the viewer to his strong, broad shoulders giving life to his otherwise hollow, hooded eyes and solemn expression. Unlike other etchings, Self Portrait: Reflection is much darker due to the obsessively complex layering of etched lines and the skill of his long-time printer Marc Balakjian from Studio Prints, London, which creates such a dramatic and haunting effect. The collection features two additional etchings produced by Freud from editions of 46 and 40 respectively, David Dawson (estimate $25,000 – $35,000) and Kai ($70,000 – $100,000), each of which was also inscribed by the artist to Richardson.
Pavel Tchelitchew’s Dancers (estimate $200,000 – $300,000), from his early 1930s series of works inspired by circus dancers, jugglers, strong-men and other performers, is another standout work. The subject matter reflects Tchelitchew’s keen awareness of
Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods, examples of which he had viewed firsthand in Gertrude Stein’s apartment during his formative period in Paris in the 1920s. The limited palette used in these compositions served to intensify the melancholic mood, and the characters in the painting seem to materialize from the haze of gaslight colours that surrounds them. In 1933, the year the work was painted, Tchelitchew began a collaboration with famed choreographer George Balanchine to create set designs for his productions, and reinforces the artist’s strong interest in performance. In addition to working with Balanchine, Tchelitchew was in great demand for ballet and set designs, working from 1919 to the mid-1940s in theatres as far afield as Istanbul and Buenos Aires and with talents such as the Ballet Russes, Orson Welles, and Sergei Diaghilev. This work was formerly in the collection of Henry P. McIlhenny, curator and chairman of the Philadelphia Museum Art, and was sold in 1987 to benefit the museum’s acquisition fund.
French Symbolist painter Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer’s Paysage Montagneux (estimate $150,000 – $250,000) underscores the range of Richardson’s collection. Lévy-Dhurmer is perhaps best known for his Wisteria Dining Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was commissioned for the Paris apartment of Auguste Rateau, who also owned the present work. The monumental landscape reflects Lévy-Dhurmer’s move away from Symbolism to focus on natural scenes, many of which drew upon the work of James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Claude Monet. The painting was previously in the collection of Richardson’s close friend and renowned interior decorator Geoffrey Bennison, who acquired it at Sotheby’s London in 1972, making this the first appearance of the work at auction in more than 45 years.
The collection also includes a personalized screen print from Andy Warhol of The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger (estimate $25,000 – $35,000); two works by the Swiss-born contemporary artist Ugo Rondinone, including one of his circular target paintings (estimate $80,000 – $120,000) and a stone sculpture consisting of rough-hewn
blocks stacked atop one another to form a human figure (estimate $100,000 – $150,000); and an 18th century Old Master painting by Antonio Joli (estimate $50,000 – $70,000).
Starting in September, the collection will be offered across Sotheby’s autumn sale series in New York and London, including Prints & Multiples, Master Paintings, 19th Century European Art, Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, Contemporary Art Day Sale, and more.
BUT, JUST WHO WAS JOHN RICHARDSON?
Sir John Richardson, KBE, FBA, was a British art historian and biographer of Pablo Picasso.
Among his many accomplishment and achievements, he headed the New York office of Christie’s for nine years, starting in 1973; consulted with galleries and Artemis, a mutual fund specializing in works of art; and contributed writing to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, among other publications. Richardson is perhaps best known for his three-volume biography A Life of Picasso, which garnered several awards, including the Whitbread Award and Costa Book Prize. In 2011, Richardson was awarded France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in recognition of his contributions to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world, and in 2012 he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
Photography: François Halard