The top lot at the Phillips’ sale held in association with Maak Contemporary Ceramics on November 10 was a ‘coco de mer’ monumental ovoid pot by Hans Coper (1920-81) from 1968. It took a mighty £520,000 (plus 26/21/14.5% buyer’s premium) – an auction record for Coper that bettered the £305,000 taken for a Cycladic Arrow Head at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter in 2018.
The top six lots in the The Art of Fire: Selections from the Dr John P Driscoll Collection sale were all by Coper. Ben Williams, Phillips’ consultant, said: “During the sale we saw the record for Hans Coper broken a number of times, once in a 15-minute bidding war for his monumental ‘Writhlington School’ pot, which achieved seven times the low estimate [£440,000 hammer price], and again for his monumental ovoid pot, which sold for eight times the low estimate.”
Among a total of 28 auction records for studio potters was a new high for Bernard Leach (1887-1979). His Tree of Life charger sold at £77,000, bettering the previous record of £40,000 bid for a pair of framed tile panels at Christie’s in 2018. Auction highs were also posted for James Tower, Michael Cardew, Richard Batterham, Alison Britton, Akiko Hirai and both David and Janet Leach.
The top-selling work by Lucie Rie was a footed bowl selling at a hammer price of £165,000. However, this did not break the previous record set by Sotheby’s in April 22 this year of $265,000 (£191,330).
Marijke Varrall-Jones, director of Maak, said the sale of Driscoll’s collection will enable the market to re-evaluate “the cultural significance of studio ceramics”. She added: “John’s eye for quality and nose for a story has brought us a collection that has made history and will resonate for years to come.”
Driscoll specialised in Hudson River School paintings but his personal collection focused on 20th century British studio ceramics as well as work by Japanese, Danish and Nigerian artists.
Maak will auction further selections from the Driscoll collection next year.