Such works tend to relate in some way to the commercial culture of the age, often ironically or critically. This is the case as much when it comes to British pop art as for its American cousin.
Among the artists at the centre of the early British pop art movement was Sir Peter Blake (b.1932), the Kent-born artist who is sometimes referred to as the ‘Godfather of Pop Art’.
In the 1950s he was one of a group of young artists who began to focus on popular culture in their paintings and sculptures, incorporating images from films, adverts, comic books and pop music as well as everyday and mass produced objects (as Warhol started doing in 1962 with Coca-Cola bottles and cans of Campbell’s soup).
Blake was first publicly identified with the emerging pop art movement at the Young Contemporaries exhibition at the Royal Society of British Artists in London in 1961. He then came to wider attention the following year when he featured in Ken Russell’s film Pop Goes The Easel, broadcast on BBC2.
Over the years his output has been prolific as he kept producing new material even throughout in his 70s and 80s. Having created so many printed editions, examples of his work abound at auction.
At the top end his original 1960s collages can make substantial sixfigure sums for example but, further down the price scale, there exists a highly active market with plenty of lots available for low five-figure sums or less.
Making a packet
Demonstrating this, three works from a late series based on vintage cigarette packets drew interest at Adam’s (25% inc VAT) of Dublin at the end of last year, each selling for under €1500.
Blake has long been attracted to artistic features in throwaway items and his ‘fag packets’ series, as it has become known, also shows the appeal he found in mass-market design and branding, a key component of the pop art movement.
The works were derived from old and flattened-out cigarette packets from the 20th century that Blake had kept in old boxes in his London studio. In the mid-2000s he decided to turn them into screenprints, blowing them up into large sizes for display.
The 10 prints from 2005-6 (published by Eyestorm) featured brands including Ardath, Belga, Capstan, Fifth Avenue, Gold Flake, Laurens, Star and Visa and the screenprints were produced in signed editions of 95 each.
The top-seller at Adam’s Mid- Century Modern auction on November 8 was an example of the Fifth Avenue screenprint. Measuring 3ft 4in x 3ft 6in (1.01m x 76cm), it was estimated at €800-1200 and sold at €1300 (£1130).
Measuring the same size and given the same estimate, a copy of the Visa ‘fag packet’ screenprint fetched €1100 (£955), while an example of the smaller Capstan version, measuring 2ft 11in x 23¼in (89 x 59cm), sold on mid-estimate at €700 (£610).
These prices were roughly in line with previous auction results for their respective editions. The highest ‘fag packet’ sum so far, according to Artprice, is the £6500 for a group of four examples that sold together at Bloomsbury Auctions in October 2014.
An even more recent Peter Blake screenprint that appeared at Bonhams (27.5% buyer’s premium) on September 21 demonstrated a growth in price even in the two years since it was released.
The artist produced the Olympic Symbol image in 2020 to mark Team GB’s participation in the 2020 Olympic summer games in Tokyo.
It featured the Olympic rings in a geometric grid of vivid colours with a heart symbol beneath (the like of which has appeared regularly in Blake’s work since his well-known work Love Wall in 1961).
The 2ft 5in x 23½in (76 x 60cm) screenprint was produced in an edition of 150. A couple of examples have sold at auction before: one making £1150 at Tate Ward in March 2021 and another making £1200 at Roseberys in July 2022.
This one at Bonhams was pitched at £1000-1500 and after decent competition emerged it was knocked down at £2200. The price was the highest so far at auction for the edition and looked pretty strong when compared to the fact that examples are currently priced at £2500 on the retail market.
£1 = €1.15