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20th-Century British Art Draws Mixed Results at London Auctions

Auctions of 20th-century British art at Sotheby's and Christie's in London on Dec. 9–12 yielded uneven results and modest sell-through rates.

NEW YORK—Auctions of 20th-century British art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London on Dec. 9–12 yielded uneven results and modest sell-through rates. Sotheby’s sale on Dec. 10 realized £3.3million ($4.9million). Of the 109 lots offered, 66, or 61 percent, found buyers, and the auction was 71 percent sold by value. Christie’s sale on Dec. 12 brought £4.1million ($6.1million) with a larger offering of 148 lots. Its sell-through rates, however—57 percent both by lot and by value—were weaker than those at Sotheby’s.

The top lot at Sotheby’s was Lawrence Stephen Lowry’s painting People Walking, 1961, which sold for £301,250 ($447,025) on an estimate of £200,000/300,000, followed by Frank Auerbach’s painting Head of Mrs. Eyles, 1968, which sold for £241,250 ($357,991), within the estimate of £200,000/300,000. Another Lowry painting, Street Corner, 1961, was also among the sale’s top lots, selling for £217,250 ($322,377) to a U.K.-based collector (estimate: £180,000/220,000).

Pyms Gallery, London, was the buyer of three sculptures by Elisabeth Frink: Riace II, conceived in 1986; Riace III, conceived in 1988; and Riace IV, conceived in 1989. All three are bronzes with painted faces from editions of four, and each sold for £181,250 ($268,957) on the same estimate of £150,000/250,000. Another, earlier bronze by Frink, Horse and Rider, 1971, sold to a U.K. collector for £103,250 ($153,213) on an estimate of £70,000/100,000.

Among other lots at the top end of the sale, Winston Churchill’s Flowers, circa 1930s, sold to a U.S. buyer for £106,850 ($158,555) on an estimate of £80,000/120,000.

Works by Churchill also led the sale at Christie’s, with the landscape painting A View of Marrakech, circa 1950–51, selling for £541,250 ($807,545), within its £400,000/600,000 estimate. It was followed in the top three lots by two paintings by Lowry: A Removal, 1928, which sold for £445,250 ($664,313) on an estimate of £300,000/500,000, and Going to the Mill, 1959, which fetched £307,250 ($458,417), at the top end of the £200,000/300,000 estimate. A Removal was sold at Sotheby’s in London nearly two decades ago for £85,800 ($134,600).

Lukewarm Reception for Victorian Art

Earlier in the week, both houses held sales of Victorian and Edwardian art. These too met with mixed demand. At Sotheby’s sale on Dec. 9, less than half of the 72 lots on offer found buyers, though by value the auction was a stronger 64 percent sold. The top lot of the sale was the painting Glasgow–Saturday Night, by John Atkinson Grimshaw, which sold for £481,250 ($712,394) to an Asian collector (estimate: £400,000/600,000).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s pencil and chalk drawing Portrait of Miss Alexa Wilding, 1879, sold to a French collector for £121,250 ($179,486), below the estimate of £150,000/200,000. Study for “Found,” a pencil drawing with pen and ink by Rossetti, saw stronger demand, selling for £85,250 ($126,196), near the high estimate of £90,000. In total, the sale realized £1.9million ($2.75million).

Christie’s sale of Victorian and Traditionalist pictures, held Dec. 11, realized £1.8million ($2.6million). Of 86 lots, just 42 works, or 49 percent, were sold. The highest price of the sale was the £409,250 ($609,783) paid for Paolo and Francesca, 1894, a circular painting by Frank Dicksee (estimate: £250,000/350,000). Grimshaw was among the handful of artists whose work commanded six figures here: Under the Moonbeams, 1887, sold for £115,250 ($171,723), below the estimate of £120,000/180,000.

Among the high-estimate buy-ins at the sale was a portrait of the Countess Granville with her daughters by Charles Edward Perugini (1839–1918), estimated at £300,000/500,000.

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