LONDON—The 20/21 British Art Fair—the only fair to specialize in British art of the 20th and 21st centuries—held Sept. 16–20 at London’s Royal College of Art ended with most dealers expressing satisfaction at the unexpectedly high level of sales. Unfazed by dwindling auction totals for modern and contemporary British art, 53 out of the 57 exhibitors had returned from last year, and the remaining four stands were easily filled from a long waiting list of applicants, said organizers Gay Hutson and Angela Wynn.
The fair’s strength is in its representation of 20th-century modern and Postwar art. Included were two works that had sold at Sotheby’s in the previous auction season and were now being shown by Richard Green: Shelter Scene: Bunks in London Underground, ca. 1942, a drawing by Henry Moore, which had sold for £223,250 ($357,200), and a classic Bloomsbury Group painting, Duncan Grant’s The Room With a View, which had sold for £97,250 ($155,600). Prices higher than auction records were asked for a classic 1950s Abstract Expressionist painting by Alan Davie (£180,000 at Robin Katz Fine Art) and for one of John Latham’s Conceptual book work collages from the 1960s (£80,000 at Richard Saltoun Gallery). Although none of these sold at the fair, plenty of deals were struck, and of the galleries canvassed by ARTnewsletter, 18 had sold more than 150 works by the last day.
Among the more expensive works were Ben Nicholson’s Still Life with Jug and Profile, ca. 1932, which was sold by Offer Waterman & Co. with an asking price of £185,000 ($296,000). The work had sold at Sotheby’s in London last June for £111,650 ($183,150). Osborne Samuel sold an early sculpture by Lynn Chadwick, Bullfrog, 1951, for £100,000 ($160,000).
Five-figure sales were abundant. A perennial favorite at the fair is the nonagenarian painter Mary Fedden. The highest among many sales of work by the artist was of a large canvas, which sold for £60,000 ($96,000) at the booth of Anthony Hepworth. Also popular was work by abstract sculptor Robert Adams, who died in 1984. His estate is handled by Gimpel Fils, which occasionally releases works onto the market to meet the needs of the artist’s family. Director Rene Gimpel said he sold five works by Adams at the fair—three privately and two to the trade—priced from £15,000 to £30,000 ($24,000 to $48,000).
Other sales of note included that of a late flower painting by Winifred Nicholson, the first wife of Ben Nicholson, which was sold by Redfern Gallery with an asking price of £50,000 ($80,000); and a portrait by the former Vorticist painter William Roberts of his son as a schoolboy, which sold at Piano Nobile with an asking price of £35,000 ($56,000). The latter had been acquired at Sotheby’s in November 2008 for £14,400 ($21,600).
Osborne Samuel sold a print of soldiers in World War I by another Vorticist artist, C.R.W. Nevinson, for £44,000 ($70,400), ahead of auction prices. Private dealer Lucy Johnson sold several works, including a 1961 collage triptych by the neglected Pop artist Joe Tilson, priced at £25,000 ($40,000), while dealer Austin Desmond wrapped up a successful fair by selling two works by Richard Lin, priced at £16,000 and £21,000 ($25,600 and $33,600), to a dealer from Hong Kong.
Although most dealers confirmed that buyers were striking deals, Jenna Burlingham of Offer Waterman Gallery was pleased that the business community was spending again. “The City buyers are back,” she said.