Buyers crave best of British
Rising demand for 20th-century tallent is boosting prices, says Clare Stewart
from THE TIMES Saturday 09-11-04
If in the 1950s and 1960s you bought paintings and drawings by up-and-coming artists, you could now be sitting on a handy nest egg. If, today, you want to buy works from that period, you can still find artists whose prices have yet to be swept up by the boom in the modern British art market.
The rise in interest and prices for work by 20th-century British artists has been gathering momentum over the past five years. Recent auction prices indicate the demand, with the June sale of 20th-century British art at Christie’s achieving £6.33 million of sales, the auction house’s highest total for this category.
Money was also flowing at the modern and contemporary sale at Sotheby’s in June, when works by Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Bacon were among the top lots. New auction records included a pastel by Paula Rego, which sold for
£117,600 against an estimate of £50,000 to £70,000.
In recent sales, prices have also moved up strongly for the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant, while postwar artists such as lyon Hitchens, Keith Vaughan and John Wells are also fetching higher sums.
James Rawlin, head of the 20th-century British art department at Sotheby’s, says that buyers’ interest has been prompted by new books on leading artists, together with museum and gallery exhibitions. He says: “People also feel that it is very accessible art, and with one hundred years of art to go at, there is something to suit every taste.“At the very top of the market, there are the same clients, but the real strength is in the middle ground between £10,000 to £80,000.”
One of the key dates for dealers and buyers is the 20/21 British Art Fair at the Royal College of Art in London from Wednesday to Sunday, with 60 leading dealers showing works priced from less than £100 to six-figure sums.
Unsurprisingly, dealers are in confident mood before the fair. Peter Osborne, vice-chairman of the Society of London Art Dealers and director of the Osborne Samuel Gallery, an exhibitor at the fair, says: “The increase in the number of galleries showing good works has helped to expand the modern British market and strong auctions have also helped to focus attention. Buyers are also looking for areas where there is some investment growth, rather than buying at the top of the market”
Most buyers are UK-based, but there is growing interest from overseas collectors, particularly from America.
At the 20/21 Fair, the Osborne Samuel Gallery will show a wide range of artists, including the sculptors Henry Moore and Lynn Chadwick, who is also the subject of a forthcoming exhibition at the gallery and a separate display at London’s Canary Wharf, which opens on Monday.
Another London dealer, James Holland-Hibbert, of Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, is similarly upbeat “Modern British works were undervalued and have now been critically reappraised,” he says. “I have a lot of faith in the market and believe that there are a number of good artists who should have more of an international reputation.”
At the 20/21 Fair, his gallery will be showing work by artists including David Bomberg, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, together with some by living artists such as David Hockney and Allen Jones.
With extra money coming in, there could be a danger that the market could become overblown. However, Mr Holland-Hibbert says: “It is not a bubble that is going to burst. Ultimately, the problem will be the supply of good material, which may create a more pronounced two-tier market, with the best fetching big sums.”
Interest in modern and contemporary Welsh painters is very strong, says Martin Tinney, whose Cardiff gallery will also be showing at the fair. The strong demand for artists such as Sir Kyffln Williams has pushed up prices significantly, which has had a knock-on effect on other artists.
Among the Scottish galleries at the fair is Ewan Mundy Fine Art from Glasgow, which will be showing works by the popular Scottish colourists. The interest in artists such as Peploe, Cadell, Hunter and Fergusson shows no sign of diminishing, says Mr Mundy. “Buyers’ tastes have become more educated and people are choosing to buy work from the colourists’ different periods and styles,” he says.
More Scottish work will be shown by the Glasgow Print Studio, which is taking a selection of small paintings and original prints. Screenprints by Eileen Cooper start from £400, while prints and watercolours by the writer and artist, John Byrne, range between £600 and £1,000.
Other events to note include British Art Week at the Tate Gallery in London from September 20 to 26. Further exhibitions there include Art of the Sixties until September 26 and a show of works by Gwen and Augustus John from September 29. A sale of 20th-century British art takes place at Sotheby’s Olympia saleroom in London on Wednesday, with another on November 17. Christie’s South Kensington has a sale on October 14 and at its King Street saleroom on November 19.
Hot Scot: Eileen Cooper’s Echoes, priced at £400, will be at the 2002 British Art Fair