While some of the uplift in 2016 was directly attributable to the Mod Brits in the Leslie Waddington collection, head of department and senior director at Christie’s André Zlattinger said that the main factor was “increasing interest in privately sourced, market-fresh material”.
The evening sale of 38 selected works on November 23 generated a premium-inclusive total of £14.6m with 34 lots selling (90%). Zlattinger said all the works came from private collections with many having been off the market for at least a generation.
The sale was led by Ben Nicholson’s (1894-1982) April 57 (Arbia 2) which overshot a £600,000-800,000 estimate and was knocked down at £3.2m. This was the highest price ever seen for the artist at auction, surpassing the €3.31m (£2.64m) including premium for Violon et guitar that sold at Christie’s Paris in 2012. It sold to a UK buyer.
The current picture was a 4ft x 3ft 6in (1.22 x 1.06m) pencil and oil on board from 1957. It had not been seen in public since it was purchased by the vendor in 1966 from an exhibition at the Galerie Beyeler in Basel.
The picture was part of a series of large and ‘symphonic’ abstract still-lifes that the artist created during this period. Zlattinger said they are deemed among the highpoints of his career.
One of them, Val d’Orcia is now in the Tate Gallery in London, while another entitled Boutique fantastique set a landmark price for Nicholson when it sold at Christie’s back in June 1990 for £1.1m.
Another record at the sale came for Jamaican Village by John Minton, a picture with an interesting backstory. Painted on the Caribbean Island in 1951, the artist gave the large-scale oil on canvas to Professor John Norris Wood, the natural history illustrator who founded a specialist course in the subject at the Royal College of Art in 1971.
Wood had kept the 5ft x 11ft 11in (1.52m x 3.62) painting in his barn for over 50 years and the late art critic Brian Sewell had even tried to buy it when he paid Wood a visit some time ago.
Christie’s decided to give the picture a light clean when they received the consignment. “This transformed the colour,” said Zlattinger, adding that he regarded the work as “one of Minton’s masterpieces”.
It came to auction following Wood’s death last year and was pitched at £100,000-150,000. Selling to a UK buyer at £240,000, the price exceeded the previous high for the artist – the £188,500 including premium fetched by Jamaican market, also from 1951, that sold at Bonhams in June this year.
Elsewhere at Christie’s, a fine tempera painting by Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949) drew good demand and sold to a UK collector at a record £160,000.
Measuring 18in x 3ft 1in (46 x 94cm), the painting on canvas laid on panel dated from 1934 and not been seen on the market for some time (the vendor’s father had purchased it from the Leicester Galleries in London).
It was pitched at £80,000-120,000 but, while prints by Wadsworth appear fairly regularly at auction, paintings from this period are much rarer.