Spring sees iconic art go under the auctioneer’s hammer
Spring auction season has arrived. Last week saw a flurry of high profile sales, including the debut of three modern masterpieces. The first was that of Pablo Picasso The open window at Christie’s in London. The surreal work depicting Picasso’s muse and lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, was painted on November 22, 1929, “in the midst of a heady moment of creativity”, according to Christie’s.
Picasso had met Walter two years earlier. Part of the Atelier series of works, other examples reside in the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris. In the painting, Walter had not yet taken on the appearance displayed in so many of Picasso’s later works. But even so, the young woman’s profile and her neat 1920s bob are recognizable. Picasso, who also got into painting, is much less so. The artist takes the form of two large feet crossed by an arrow. The open window grossed £16.3million on March 1.
Later that evening at Christie’s in London, Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7 also went on sale for the first time. A meditation on passing time and the loneliness of the human condition, the familiar format of three Bacon paintings draws inspiration from events in 20th-century history as well as the artist’s life and experiences. The left panel is inspired by a photograph of US President Woodrow Wilson leaving the Versailles Treaty negotiations in 1919, the right panel by a photo of Leon Trotsky’s study taken after his assassination in 1940. And in the middle , a figure resembling John Edwards, Bacon’s partner at the time, in a pose similar to that taken by George Dyer, his former lover, who committed suicide in 1971, and which Bacon immortalized in Triptych August 1972which now hangs in the Tate Gallery, London. Triptych 1986-7 sold for £38.5m, slightly above its low estimate.
Several other big names also went under the hammer that week. Jean-Michel Basquiat The Duke (1982), sold for ¥94.2m (£11.2m), still at Christie’s, but this time in Shanghai, underlining the growing importance of the Asian market. Back in London two days later, Self-portrait on the terrace (1984), by David Hockney, grossed £4.9m at Phillips. Singer Robbie Williams has unloaded his two Banksy tracks, girl with ball (2006) and Vandalized Oil (Choppers) (2006), for a total of £7 million.
Last week’s bumper sale, however, went to another auction debutante: The Empire of Lights (1961), by the Belgian surrealist René Magritte. The iconic work (pictured), one of 17 that form a series, contrasts day and night on a typical suburban house on a quiet Brussels street. A possible inspiration for the piece is André Breton’s poem Egret, which opens: “If only the sun came out tonight”. It was certainly released at Sotheby’s in London that night – the painting sold for £59.4million.
Boom in luxury assets
Collectibles had a strong year in 2021. According to the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2022, released last week, alternative investments across all classes rose as investors sought stability away from equity volatility.
The Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index (KFLII), which tracks ten categories of collectibles, from classic cars to art to wine and whisky, rose 9% from a year earlier in the strongest annual growth since 2018. Watches and fine wines were the best. outperforming luxury assets, both appreciating 16%, no doubt helped by the series of high profile watch auctions held at Phillips towards the end of last year.
November, for example, saw sales of an ‘extremely important’ Patek Philippe wristwatch (pictured), reference 2499 from 1952 for 3.5m Swiss francs (£2.9m), and a Grande and Petite Sonnerie repeater wristwatch made by Philippe Dufour, which sold for CHF 4.7m (£3.9m). As far as fine wines are concerned, Champagne was the region which appreciated the fastest, with an increase of 31% compared to the previous year, with the 2008 vintage in particular attracting investors. Burgundy also had a good year, rising by a quarter in value.
Art was the third highest on the Knight Frank index. Sales were up 13% year-over-year, driven by works by “top-notch” artists, such as Jackson Pollock, whose Number 17 grossed $61.2 million. Among the major auction houses, Sotheby’s led the way, recording sales worth $7.3 billion in 2021, closely followed by Christie’s with $7.1 billion. But a change is afoot. The past year has also seen the rise of “red-chip” “ultra-contemporary” artists, who are using social media to build an audience, says Veronika Lukasova of analysts at Art Market Research. what is NFT (non-fungible tokens) is the most visible expression of this trend. Major auction houses sold “crypto art” for a total of $227 million in 2021, and this trend is expected to continue. to chase.
Jewels belonging to the late Vera Lynn are heading to auction with Toovey’s in West Sussex in aid of the singer’s charity foundation on March 16. Lynn is famous for “capturing the hearts of the nation during World War II with his uplifting musical performances and recordings”, says The Independent. She became known as Forces’ Sweetheart for her role in rallying troops to Burma with the Entertainment National Service Association. Her family now sells the rings, bracelets, necklaces and brooches worn by Lynn to continue her charity work. Headlining the sale is a large late Victorian diamond-set heart-shaped locket pendant, set with cut diamonds and carrying a pre-sale estimate of between £7,000 and £10,000.
The leather flying cap (pictured) worn by pioneering American pilot Amelia Earhart when she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic was sold last week at Texas-based Heritage Auctions, according to CNN In 1928, Earhart boarded the Fokker F.VIII “Friendship” piloted by Wilmer Stultz and Lou Gordon, as a passenger for the 21-hour trip from Newfoundland, in eastern Canada, to southern Wales. Four years later, she will continue the journey alone. Then, in 1937, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared somewhere over the Pacific when their Lockheed L10 Electra ran out of fuel. Since then, their whereabouts have remained a mystery. His legend, however, lives on, says Heritage. His leather flying cap sold for $825,000, ten times its pre-sale estimate.