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Kicking off this week’s series of auctions coinciding with London’s Frieze fair, the 44-lot auction was a ‘white-glove sale’ with every single lot finding a buyer. While this might not be unusual for an estate sale, the level of interest was solid throughout with some notable sums achieved, even if there weren’t too many stellar sums.

Guy Jennings, managing director of The Fine Art Group, told ATG: “Nothing went crazy but everything did well. Leslie Waddington was a much-loved figure and had a very good eye. It was a very personal collection but you could tell the works were priced in a particular way – they were there to be sold.”

The sale benefitted from the continued weakness of the pound with particular interest coming from the US as well as some from activity from Asia. Christie’s said the registered bidders came from 37 different countries.

One bidder sitting in the sixth row secured seven lots, including three works by Josef Albers (1888-1976), before leaving the saleroom midway through the auction. He was believed to be a buyer from the US – perhaps someone who had come to London for the Frieze fair which opens with its 'invitation-only' preview today?

The overall total on the night was £28.3m (including premium) against a presale estimate of £11.9m-18.5m.

The sale opened with a strong competition for a portrait of Leslie Waddington by Sir Peter Blake (b.1932) which more than doubled its estimate when it was knocked down at £65,000. In the background of the picture was a depiction of an Old Master painting – Hans Memling’s Portrait of a Young Man.

Dubuffet in Demand

A group of seven works by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) also drew interest with the large-scale oil on canvas Visiteur au chapeau bleu generating a three-way contest. Overtaking its £2m-3m estimate, it was finally knocked down at £4.15m to a telephone buyer who was bidding through Olivier Camu, Christie’s deputy chairman of Impressionist & Modern art.

The painting from 1955 had been produced during the first few months of the artist’s six-year sojourn in the south of France. It was described by the auctioneers as “offering a primordial vision of bucolic joie de vivre”.

Visiteur au chapeau bleu by Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet's ‘Visiteur au chapeau bleu’ which led the sale of the Leslie Waddington collection at Christie's. It was knocked down to a phone bidder at £4.15m.

Elsewhere, a record was set for a work on paper by Francis Picabia (1879-1953) when the c.1923 watercolour Lampe sold at £3.1m. It surpassed an £800,000-1.5m estimate and was knocked down to an unidentified bidder at the back of the saleroom who saw off other parties in the room, on the phone and online. The underbidder was from Asia according to the auctioneers.

The picture was one of a series of works painted in this period by the artist which was said to combine geometric abstraction and the ancient ideal of classical beauty.

Lampe by Francis Picabia

Francis Picabia's ‘Lampe’ from 1923 which sold for £3.1m at the Leslie Waddington sale at Christie's, setting an auction record for a work on paper by the artist.

After the sale, the head of Christie’s evening auction Katharine Arnold said: “The sale showed the power of provenance and freshness. Over 90% of the works had never appeared at auction before.”

“Tonight’s outstanding results were a fitting tribute to one of the art world’s great dealers – Leslie Waddington was a ground-breaking figure and taste-maker who pioneered contemporary art in London, long before the proliferation of galleries and art institutions in the city.”

The second part of the Waddington collection will be offered in November and is timed to coincide with Christie’s Modern British & Irish Art auctions.

The buyer’s premium was 25/20/12%.

Waddington’s Career

  • Born in Dublin in 1934, Leslie Waddington was the son of gallery owner Victor Waddington and his wife, Zelda.
  • In the late 1950s Victor Waddington returned to London, where he opened a gallery on Cork Street. Accompanying him was the 24-year-old Leslie, who would soon become a director at his father’s business.
  • In 1966 he opened his own space, Waddington Galleries, alongside business partner Lord Alexander Bernstein. By the late 1980s he had five outlets on Cork Street.
  • Waddington served as chairman of the Modern Painting and Pictures sections of TEFAF fair and, in 2003, he was one of the first dealers to participate in London’s Frieze Art Fair.
  • In 2013, Nicholas Serota presented him with the Federation of European Art Galleries Award in Basel, lauding Waddington as an individual "without equal in the profession". He died in November 2015.