The sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams posted £25.6m in November 2017, a figure that was surpassed last week thanks to a greater number of significant collections consigned and more individual star lots.
The current series was boosted in particular by an LS Lowry (1887-1976) painting depicting a scene from a racecourse which was knocked down at £4.5m at Christie’s.
While the artist depicted football, rugby and cricket matches with some regularity in his work, racing subjects are much more unusual. While an early drawing, The Mid-day Special, (The Result of the Race) is now in the Manchester City Galleries, the Christie’s catalogue described A Northern Race Meeting as “a unique painting in the artist’s oeuvre depicting a day out at the races”.
The 2ft 6in x 3ft 4in (76cm x 1.02m) oil on canvas was painted in 1956 and was purchased by the vendor’s father in the same year.
As with the drawing from 1922, the focus of the painting was not the actual horse races themselves but rather the characters walking through the ground and huddling around the bookmakers’ stalls and news stands.
The price for A Northern Race Meeting was the joint-third highest price for a Lowry at auction, behind the £5m sums fetched by The Football Match in May 2011 and Piccadilly Circus in November 2011 which also both sold at Christie’s.
Alongside the main Modern British art auctions, Christie’s also offered a lively sale of works previously in the collection of the Berkeley Square club Annabel’s. The stand-alone auction was led by a record £300,000 for Glyn Philpot when one of his final portraits of Henry Thomas drew strong interest against a £80,000-120,000 estimate.
Sotheby’s sales were led by a Henry Moore Family Group maquette which had previously been in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and art dealer Jeffrey Loria.
Consigned from a Japanese private collection, it was estimated at £1.3m-1.8m, a pitch that proved slightly ambitious as it was knocked down to a private collector at £1.2m.
Sotheby’s also raised £3.29m (including premium) from the Irish art collection of Brian P Burns. While the selling rate was a somewhat patchy 59%, among the works selling was Sir John Lavery’s Armistice Day, November 11th 1918, Grosvenor Place, London which was knocked down on low estimate at £200,000 but was acquired by the Imperial War Museums collection.
Bonhams’ Modern British art sale on November 14 was also topped by a Henry Moore (1898-1986) sculpture. Mask was a rare 1920s small carving – one of only 12 known that the artist carved from alabaster.
Offered fresh to the market and estimated at £1m-1.5m, it drew three determined bidders in the room and on the phone and was knocked down at £2.7m.
A full report of the Modern British sales will appear in a future print edition of ATG.