“Unpredictable is the best way to describe the current market,” said Charlotte Riordan, head of sale for contemporary and post-war art at Lyon & Turnbull (25/20% buyer’s premium) in Edinburgh.
“Prices for some artists that suddenly blew up in our previous sale settled back down again in the latest auction, and vice versa. But the market seems quite strong and there is still a lot of private buyers.”
This volatile streak, said Riordan, was evident in the surprisingly strong performance of the sale’s top lot on August 17, a large canvas from Terry Frost’s (1915-2003) late (and less sought-after) period.
Sun Ride, a vibrant 4ft 11in x 4ft 1in (1.5 x 1.24m) oil, was created by the English abstract painter between 1986 and 1990 and was deemed a good example of his mature work.
Consigned from a private collection, it was pursued by two bidders above the £20,000-30,000 estimate to £65,000 – a big price for a late work. Just two other canvases from this period have made more at auction, according to the Art Sales Index. The winning bidder was a private buyer.
Another highlight at L&T was an Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) group of plaster maquettes and the much-publicised designs for a set of mosaics at Tottenham Court Road Underground Station.
The latter sold to a private local buyer just under estimate at £19,000, while the modestly priced maquettes attracted greater competition, selling for a £7500 total. The group dated to the 1990s and had been gifted to the vendor by the artist.
The top lot and the largest at 15in (38cm) high was a ‘computer’ head which sold for £3800 against a £2000-3000 guide.
The star of McTear’s (23% buyer’s premium) sale of Scottish contemporary art in Glasgow on August 13 was a painting by John Bellany (1942-2013), one of the more bankable names in this field.
Two Wives, a large 5ft x 4ft (1.52 x 1.22m) oil on canvas, depicts Bellany’s former wives Helen Percy (whom he later remarried) and Juliet Lister surrounded by birds and a table of fish.
It was acquired in 1990 by the wealthy American collectors and gallery owners, Jerome and Ruth Siegel. The latter, a board member of MoMA PS1 and the Museum of Arts and Design, gave Bellany a major solo show in New York in 1988.
It sold to a private Scottish collector for £15,000, improving on a £8000-12,000 guide.
“Demand for Bellany’s work is routinely strong in Glasgow and this was a very good post-1969 example with excellent provenance,” said Roderick Shale, picture consultant at McTear’s. “Many of the Bellanys we sell come from private vendors from south of the border and especially London.”
The auction house’s buyer database for contemporary pictures is almost entirely private collectors: “The trade rarely wins against a dedicated private collector.”
Money to Byrne
In its August 10 sale, Thomson Roddick (15% buyer’s premium) offered half a dozen works by the Scottish artist John Byrne (b.1940), perhaps better known as a playwright and the former partner of actress Tilda Swinton.
“He is a Glasgow artist who was originally a very successful playwright and now has a wide following. He is represented in many national galleries,” said Thomson Roddick’s picture specialist Sybelle Thomson.
Byrne works regularly feature in Scottish picture sales, with a current auction record of £20,000 fetched at Lyon & Turnbull in December 2015, for West of Eighth avenue, a New York-inspired work donated by the artist and sold for charity.
The group at Thomson Roddick had been consigned from a private collection of 400 works, mainly Scottish contemporary art, which the auction house has been gradually siphoning off. Eagerly contested beyond an £800-1200 guide was a signed mixed media self-portrait – his most popular subject.
Purchased from the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh, the 16½ x 10in (42 x 25cm) piece was hammered down at £3300.