On the evening of March 1, Christie’s presented a small sale of Modern British art which included works by Lavery, Moore, Hepworth, and Sir Winston Churchill.
Taking the top spot was Sir Winston Churchill’s Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque that Angelina Jolie was selling. The painting was only 18 x 24 inches, but had excellent provenance (initially, Churchill gave the painting to President Franklin Roosevelt) and carried an estimate of £1.5-2.5M. When the bidding battle ended, the new owner paid £7M/$9.73M (£8.29M/$11.5M w/p) – an auction record for the artist. Henry Moore’s Maquette for King and Queen (a 10 ½ inch high bronze) took second place when it sold for £2.5M/$3.5M (£3.02/$4.2M w/p). Third place saw a larger (24 x 36 inches) Churchill work – Scene at Marrakech – that hammered at £1.55M/$2.15M (£1.88M/$2.6M – est. £300-500K); Churchill gave this painting to Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (man, I wish my grandfather was a friend of Churchill). Rounding out the top five were Churchill’s St. Paul’s Churchyard, which did nothing for me, but I guess the buyer of the other two needed this one as well and ended up paying £880K/$1.22M (£1.08M/$1.5M – est. £200-300K); and Barbara Hepworth’s Square Forms made £750K/$1.04M (£923K/$1.3M – w/p).
There were a few other good results; among them were Sir John Lavery’s The Viscountess Castlerosse, Palm Springs that was expected to bring £400-600K and hammered at £700K/$937K (£863K/$1.2M – w/p)… this painting last sold at auction in 1997 for $63K, so that was a happy seller! Sir Michael Craig-Martin’s With Red Shoes was expected to sell between £60-80K and brought £260K/$361K (£325K/$451K – w/p), and Hepworth’s Three Round Forms made £480K/$$667K (£599K/$832K – w/p) – this same bronze last sold in 1988 for $77K … another happy seller.
By the end of the sale, of the 34 works offered, 33 sold (an impressive 97% sell-through rate), and the total take was £21M/$29.3M (£25.6/$35.6M). The presale estimate range was £9.06-14.28M, so they easily beat that. Of the 33 sold works, 7 were below, 11 within, and 15 above their estimate range, leaving them with an accuracy rate of 32.4% — which is not terrible.
As we have seen with many other sales, all it takes is one or two bidding battles to make any sale a real success … at least if you are just looking at the overall numbers. In this case, three paintings by Churchill made all the difference.