This summer, Sotheby’s London will present a one-off auction and exhibition that spans over half a millennium of art history.
From Rembrandt, ‘the first modern painter’, to Richter, who has earned his position as one of today’s greatest contemporary painters by reinterpreting the masterpieces of his forefathers, the sale will offer the very best from Old Masters, Impressionist & Modern Art, Modern & Post-War British Art and Contemporary Art – travelling through the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age, to the revolutionary birth of Modernism, and the invasion of Pop Art and Post-modern Abstraction.
The exhibition recently opened to the public in Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries, with many of the works on view for the first time in decades. They are hung in such a way as to illuminate the often-unexpected connections between artists and periods, shining a spotlight on the various threads that run through Western art history.
The Evening Sale will take place at 6pm BST on 28 July, offering over seventy works. Among the star lots are works by Joan Miró (est. £20-30 million / $25-37.5 million), Francis Bacon (est. £12-18 million / $15-22.5 million), Henri Matisse (est. £8-12 million / $10-15 million), Rembrandt (est. £12-16 million / $15-20 million), Gerhard Richter (est. £9-12 million / $11.3-15 million), Fernand Léger (est. £8-12 million / $10-15 million), Pablo Picasso (est. £6-9 million / $7.5-11.3 million), David Hockney (est. £4-6 million / £5-7.5 million) and Alberto Giacometti (est. £4-6 million / £5-7.5 million). Almost two-thirds of the art in the sale has never been at auction before, and of the lots that have appeared in the past, some 70% have been off the market for two decades. View the full catalogue online here.
“This auction brings together spectacular works by some of the greatest names in art history – artists who re-wrote the rule book – and, with the global art world calendar having shifted, we too have seized the opportunity to do things differently. As a new generation of collectors show less concern with the traditional art market categories of the past, this is a sale without boundaries for those collectors who look for the best of the best, regardless of where or when the artworks were made. Following the success of our recent New York auction in June, live-streamed in real-time across the world, and strong success in Hong Kong last week, we are excited now to be presenting another great offering to the world’s hungry market in London.”Helena Newman, Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe
THE ART OF ABSTRACTION
In the mid-1920s Miró’s art underwent a complete transformation. The artist invented a lyrical abstract language of signs, opening up a new path for his contemporaries and generations of artists to follow. Painted in 1927, the year he mastered this new style, Femme au chapeau rouge ranks highly among his ‘dream paintings’ – a series at the core of Miró’s legacy. The viewer is immersed in a luminous, deep blue that Miró called “the colour of his dreams”, inspired by days looking up and admiring the sky in Catalonia.
Unseen for decades, and last at auction in 1966, it is the first work of this importance to appear at auction since Peinture (Étoile bleue) set the record for the artist in 2012. A testament to its special place in Miró’s oeuvre the work was once in the collection of fellow artist Alexander Calder, who was not only great friends with the artist but also inspired by him throughout his life, and there is a striking visual resonance with Calder’s mobiles in the work.
Leading British artist and subject of a recent critically acclaimed retrospective at London’s Hayward Gallery, Bridget Riley embarked on this celebrated series after visiting Egypt in 1979. One of the finest examples of the artist’s stripe paintings from the 1980s, Cool Edge bears the hallmark hues of the artist’s ‘Egyptian palette’ – violet, aquamarine, coral and yellow – colours based on ancient Egyptian tomb paintings and local landscapes. The work equally draws from a childhood spent on the Cornish Coast, the title recalling the cool undulating waves of the sea on a summer’s day.
Working in Paris in the context of Picasso and Braque’s revolutionary development of Cubism, Léger developed his own unique and radical style, which integrated colour and abstracted forms. Composed of boldly outlined, overlapping shapes and coloured with strong tones, these works represent the artist’s ultimate Cubist vision. This dynamic example has never been at auction and has remained unseen since it was last exhibited in 1983, two years after it was acquired.
This work forms part of a treasure-trove from a private collection – little known and rarely seen – spanning the remarkable first decades of the twentieth century, telling the story through the leading protagonists, from Léger, Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti to Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger and Alexej von Jawlensky.
A disciple and friend of Mondrian, Moss worked in Paris in the 1920s when few other British artists were. She became the only female Neo-Plasticism (De Stijl) and soon emerged as a major innovator within the group. This work has never been at auction and is one of very few works by the artist to be offered on the market. Her contribution to abstraction has been left largely under the radar because she left so little work behind.
The lines are foreshadowed in Vilhelm Hammershøi’s view of the interior courtyard from his Copenhagen apartment (est. £400,000-600,000 / $500,000-750,000), which presents an almost flattened geometrical abstract and is appearing at auction for the first time in thirty years.
PORTRAITURE THROUGH THE AGES
The sale takes its title from Rembrandt, an artist who has perhaps had the greatest influence on all subsequent painters. Rembrandt’s self-portraits are amongst the most recognisable images in the entire canon of western art and, of the forty-one that survive, this 1632 self-portrait is one of only three remaining in private hands and the only one ever likely to come to market.
Two works in the sale by Rubens and Frans Hals date to the same ten-year period when Rembrandt painted this self-portrait. Unseen and unconsidered by scholars for over half a century, Frans Hals’ portrait of an unknown gentleman, estimated at £2-3 million / $2.5-3.8 million, is a recently re-discovered work from 1635. The work displays all the virtuosity, and the myriad shades of black, that made Hals such a role model for Manet, Van Gogh and others centuries later. Similarly fresh to the market, Rubens’ portrait of a young woman (est. £2.5-3.5 million / $3.1-4.4 million) has only recently emerged from a private collection, having last been exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1902. It will be one of only a handful of female portraits by the Flemish master to be offered in a generation.
Appearing at auction for this first time, this portrait by Francis Bacon opens a window onto one of the most important and significant relationships of the artist’s life. The subject is John Edwards, a bar manager from the East End of London, who Bacon had met over a decade earlier. Becoming one of his closest, and most trusted companions, Edwards became the sole heir to the artist’s estate when he died in 1992. Captured against a rich, deep teal background, the subject’s body comprises a fusion of Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of motion, as a range of delicate painterly layers built up an incredibly detailed and nuanced rendition of Edwards’ face.
Unseen since 1949 and set to appear at auction for the first time, this beautiful work is a quintessential example of Matisse’s sensuous odalisques. The elegant model is Italian countess Carla Avogadro, dressed in a blue tutu, reclining on an extravagant Venetian Rococo armchair, an antique find that Matisse bought on a whim and, in his own words, became “obsessed” with.
These paintings from the early 1940s were the artist’s final canvases before Matisse turned his hand, and scissors, to his famous cut-outs, and harmoniously bring together all the strands of his genre paintings – the staccato still life of the vase counterbalancing the soft lines of the figure, all within a familiar interior world marked by its chequerboard floor.
A series of works in the sale encapsulate one of the most noble motives behind a portrait, that of love. In a seldom-seen work from 1931, Picasso immortalises an incredibly intimate moment with his secret lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, capturing her features in charcoal with a wonderful feeling of spontaneity and directness, in a canvas that looks back to the great drawings of the Renaissance. Andrea Del Verrochio’s brilliantly drawn drapery of fine linen (est. £2-3 million / $2.5-3.8 million), a study for one of the key sculptures of the Florentine Renaissance, provides a parallel, where an abstract pattern of forms carries a precise charge of feeling and meaning.
From the same family collection as the Picasso and the Léger, and dating just three years earlier, Marc Chagall paints himself into a joyous canvas with his wife Bella (est. £700,000-900,000 / $875,000-1.1 million).
Alongside these, is a delicate depiction of two artists in love, in Ben Nicholson’s tender drawing of Barbara Hepworth (est. £50,000-80,000 / $62,500-100,000), depicted in the simple, understated line so characteristic of Nicholson’s work. Unseen since it was acquired in the 1960s, the work dates to the height of their affair, just months after they began to share her studio and apartment.
FROM LANDSCAPES TO STILL-LIFES
Gerhard Richter’s celestial cloud photo painting from 1970, fittingly multipaneled in the format of an altarpiece, inescapably evokes the sublime skies for which Turner and Constable were so famed, whilst also harking back to the heavenly church frescoes of the Renaissance. Richter’s is a truly contemporary reinvention of traditional landscape painting, painted from a photograph. Indeed, in Richter’s eyes, clouds are nature’s own form of abstract painting.
More than three hundred years earlier, the Dutch landscape painter Jan Van Goyen devoted two-thirds of his canvas to depicting billowing clouds bouldering across the skies, in a choppy coastal seascape from 1652 (est. £200,000-300,000 / $250,000-375,000).
Banksy here turns his hand to seascapes in Mediterranean Sea View 2017, a tempestuous triptych that pointedly alludes to the thousands of lives lost at sea during the European migrant crisis of the 2010s. Comprising three modified oil paintings, the trio of elaborately framed artworks were originally painted for and displayed in the lobby of the artist’s The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem. Donated to ABCD Bethlehem, all proceeds from the auction will go towards building a new acute stroke unit and purchasing children’s rehabilitation equipment for BASR hospital in Bethlehem.
Inspired by his friend, artist Kenneth Tyler’s swimming pool in suburban New York, David Hockney’s Pool on a Cloudy Day with Rain (Paper Pool 22) (est. £4-6 million / £5-7.5 million) is a pivotal extension of the artist’s Californian ‘poolscapes’, which were borne from his fascination for Hollywood and the innately American connotations of wealth.
Capturing the bucolic British countryside are works by J.M.W. Turner (est. £1-1.5 million / $1.3-1.9 million) and Stanley Spencer (est. £300,000-500,000 / $375,000-625,000), whilst Gustav Bauernfeind transports us to Jerusalem at sunrise circa 1902 (est. £3-4 million / $3.8-5 million) and tragic artist Christopher Wood finds solace in Brittany in the summer of 1929 (est. £200,000-300,000 / $250,000-375,000).
Among a number of recently-restituted works is one of the finest works by the great Venetian artist Bernardo Bellotto, the immensely talented nephew of Antonio Canaletto. A lyrical view of Dresden of about 1758 (est. £3-4 million / $3.8-5 million), the painting was restituted and returned by the German government to the heirs of Max Emden in 2019.
Further restituted works are by Paolo Uccello and Abraham Mignon, as well as Emil Nolde in the Day Sale.
As with the landscape, the genre of the still-life also came into its own in the seventeenth century and has become the perfect breeding ground for experimentation. The sale offers examples from the Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (est. £300,000-400,000 / $375,000-500,000), who would command a thousand guilders for a single flower picture in the 1620s, and great botanist artist Cedric Morris (est. £100,000-150,000 / $125,000-187,500), after whom several lilies are named, to Scottish avant-garde artist Samuel John Peploe (est. £300,000-500,000 / $375,000-625,000) and the radical cubist approach of Picasso (est. £600,000-800,000 / $750,000-1.1 million).
THE FANTASTICAL FIGURE
A teeming expanse of beasts, hybrid creatures and inimitable dancing figures populate Haring’s electric canvas from 1984: from a six-legged caterpillar to a winged donkey, and a skeleton with a fully animated brain. The artist explores themes of mortality and myth in response to the tragic onset of the AIDS crisis, and with its moralising tone, the canvas sits within a rich tradition of great masters grappling with themes of apocalyptic doom – whilst also bringing in the nascent hip-hop scene of downtown New York in the 1980s.
Among Haring’s inspirations was Pieter Brueghel the Younger, and the sale offers a village scene of Flemish peasants carousing (est. £300,000-400,000 / $375,000-500,000), which has remained in possession of the same Austrian family since the 19th century.
An artist who was similarly fond of the bizarre, Burra was drawn to people, particularly on the fringes of society, and the world of bars, theatres, music halls and café cabarets. Unseen since 1997, in The Pointing Finger from 1933 (est. £200,000-300,000), we see one of his most intriguing cast of characters, in a canvas inspired by the Surrealists and Italianate landscapes.
Concurrent to the Evening Sale, Day Sales will be held online for each of the collecting categories, with these works also on public view in the galleries. The Old Masters and Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sales will be open for bidding from 20-29 July, and the Modern & Post-War British Art and Contemporary Art Day Sales running from 20-30 July.