London’s Summer Auctions and a Farewell to Christie’s South Kensington

London is the place to be for summer auctions and fairs in the fine art industry. To prepare you for this busy time in the Square Mile, Borro will be previewing both sets of events starting with the auctions.

The End of an Era for Christie’s

A key chapter in London’s saleroom history ends this summer when, after more than 40 years, Christie’s South Kensington closes its doors for the final time at the end of July. Christie’s say restructuring will see some sales move to King Street with others forming part of a much larger online-only offering. But popular collecting areas from Clarice Cliff to Lalique will no longer have their posh London shop window.

Previewing Christie’s Summer Auctions

 In truth Christie’s recent past, present and future lies in a different echelon of the market – as amply demonstrated by the series of flagship sales the auctioneer has planned for the summer. Small-scale, high value and ‘curated’ sales have become the zeitgeist.

Fifty-five Modern British works offered on the evening of June 26 – led by Henry Moore’s 1946 bronze Family Group and Barbara Hepworth’s 1961 Curved Form (Bryher II) that carry hopes of £1.5m-2.5m apiece – are followed the next day by an Impressionist and Modern sale boasting a trio of seven-figure works.

Pablo Picasso’s portrait Femme écrivant (1934) is coming to auction for the first time from a European collection where it has been for a decade. From the series of paintings depicting Marie-Thérèse Walter, that in recent years have proved some of the most expensive of all artistic real estate, it is estimated at £25m-40m.

summer auctions - Schiele
Courtesy of Christie’s.
Egon Schiele’s Einzelne Häuser (Häuser mit Bergen), 1915 is pitched at £20m-30m at Christie’s on June 26.

Egon Schiele’s melancholic autumnal landscape Einzelne Häuser (Häuser mit Bergen, painted in the middle of the First World War, is pitched at £20m-30m. It was last sold at Christie’s in New York in 2006 when it took $22.4m. Christie’s have found a third party to ensure that it will sell at a profit and have also guaranteed the sale of Vincent Van Gogh’s Le Moissonneur at £12.5m-16.5m. Painted in 1889, the year he admitted himself into an asylum, it is one of series of ten paintings that Van Gogh made after a series of drawings by Jean-François Millet, seven of which now reside in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It was acquired by a descendent of the owner at Sotheby’s in 1995.

Looking Ahead to Sotheby’s Summer Auctions

summer auctions - Miro
Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Sotheby’s June 21 catalogue includes Femme et oiseaux, 1940, the eighth work from Joan Miró‘s Constellation series, with an estimate of over £30m.

In-keeping with the collecting choices of the global rich, Sotheby’s equivalent Imp and Mod sale – unusually out of sync with their rivals on June 21 –  is dominated by 20th century masters rather than Impressionists. The catalogue includes Femme et oiseaux, 1940 from Joan Miró‘s Constellation series with an estimate of over £30m and, one of two major works from Wassily Kandinsky, Bild mit weissen Linien from the artist’s ‘Big Bang’ year of 1913 (over £25m). Both market-fresh pictures are subject to ‘irrevocable bids’, an arrangement where a third party agrees to place a bid at the lower estimate with the expectation that both auctioneers and investor might benefit from more competitive bidding. At this level of the market, the once clear lines between auctioneering and dealing are now blurred.

Redefining Old Masters

summer auctions - claude-joseph-vernet
Courtesy of Christie’s.
Christie’s Old Master sale on July 6 will include pictures from the collection of Raine, Countess Spencer (1929-2016). Lady Spencer, the only daughter of novelist Dame Barbara Cartland, was famously unpopular with her stepchildren – Charles Spencer described his stepmother’s taste as having “the wedding cake vulgarity of a five-star hotel in Monaco” – but she assembled some significant 18th century French pictures including this Claude Joseph Vernet Mediterranean sea-port (estimate £300,000-500,000). A dedicated ‘Raine, Countess Spencer’ collection sale will follow on July 13.

The definition of an Old Master painting is also much changed. Works by JMW Turner – described by John Ruskin in 1843 as ‘the father of modern art’ – are now offered in this most venerable of art dealing categories. His 1835 Rhine landscape titled The Bright Stone of Honour and the Tomb of Marceau, from Byron’s Childe Harolde leads Sotheby’s July 5 evening sale. The painting depicting the ruins of the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress near Koblenz, a region Turner visited several times, was last sold in 1965, when it fetched £88,000.

summer auctions - guardi
Courtesy of Christie’s.
The Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi by Francesco Guardi is expected to sell for over £25m at Christie’s on July 6.

A large-scale Venetian scene by Francesco Guardi is being sold for only the second time since it was painted in the mid-1760s. The Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, is one of a pair acquired in 1768 by the English grand tourist Chaloner Arcedeckne. Both paintings stayed in his family until 1891 when they were sold privately for £3,850 to Edward Cecil Guinness brewing fame. The paintings were separated in 2011 when the pendant, Rialto Bridge from the Fondamenta del Carbon, was sold at Sotheby’s for a record £26.7m. A similar sum is expected of this picture on July 6.
Henry Pettifer, head of Old Master paintings at Christie’s, expects it to appeal across collecting boundaries. “We are in a market that is increasingly driven by a desire for the best of the best. This picture would be of interest to any private collector at the top end,” he says.

With such attention-grabbing lots it’s not difficult to understand why Christie’s might see its South Kensington saleroom as expendable. But, by dealers and collectors big and small, it will undoubtedly be missed.

Additional Highlights from London Summer Auctions

summer auctions - Matisse-13193f597d35636f0888716509c04821
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Appearing at auction for the first time in almost three decades, Paul Cézanne’s Baigneuses, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire au fond c.1902-06 is estimated to bring £4m-6m as the cover-lot of Sotheby’s inaugural Actual Size sale on June 21. It formed part of both the Robert von Hirsch and the British Rail Pension Fund collections. The gimmicky sale brings together a range of works from across the 20th and 21st centuries – each no bigger than the size of the catalogue page on which it is illustrated.

summer auctions - Patrick Heron
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Patrick Heron’s Tall Brown June 1959 carries an estimate of £400,000-600,000 at a Sotheby’s 49-lot single-owner sale on June 29 titled London to St Ives. “Put together over 30 years, this collection tells the story of British Art during the mid-20th Century when London had a serious rival as the centre of the British art world in St Ives, a tiny fishing village at the far Western tip of England,” says Frances Christie, Sotheby’s head of Modern and& Post-War British art.

summer auctions - Storr dishes
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

One trend of recent years has been the mixed discipline sale designed the combine the best of a sometimes sluggish decorative arts market. At Sotheby’s ‘Treasures’ sale on July 5 a pair of vast silver-gilt sideboard dishes (one shown) made for the Duke of Northumberland  by Paul Storr (London 1813), carries an estimate of £500,000-700,000 at Sotheby’s Treasures sale on July 5.

summer auctions - parmigianino
Courtesy of Bonhams

This red chalk study of three female nudes by Parmigianino, newly discovered among an album of drawings assembled in the 19th century, is to be offered at Bonhams’ Old Master sale on July 5. It is estimated at £15,000-20,000. The provenance of the work can be traced with certainty to the late 18th century, and may have originally been in the collection of Francesco Baiardo (1486-1561) who bought many sketches direct from the artist.

summer auctions - fitzherbert-pendant
Courtesy of Christie’s

Christie’s ‘Exceptional’ sale in King Street on July 6 is the place to find the Maria Fitzherbert Jewel, a locket belonged to King George IV’s secret wife, Maria Fitzherbert which contains a miniature of the king as the Prince of Wales by Richard Cosway (£80,000-120,000).

summer auctions - rossetti
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s sale of Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art on 13 July includes the only version of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Lady Lilith to remain in private hands. It has been in Japan for the last 30 years. A celebration of the beauty of the artist’s first mistress, the coarse and ill-educated blacksmith’s daughter Fanny Cornforth (1835-1906), the rediscovered picture from the 1860s will carry an estimate of £400,000-600,000.

Related Blogs:
Discoveries Fire the Old Master Market
Flagship London Art Sales Move with the Times
London Summer Capital of Art Preview – Auctions

About the Author:

Roland Arkell is the Contributing Editor at ATG Media. For almost two decades, Roland has been writing about the British and international art and antiques market for Antiques Trade Gazette, the leading publication for serious buyers and sellers of art and antiques.