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Early Evening Sale at Sotheby’s London – British Modern & Contemporary

June 30, 2021
Lucien Freud - David Hockney

Lucien Freud – David Hockney

Sotheby’s hosted a British Art evening sale to close out June, though it curiously took place in the afternoon. The sale featured Modern and Contemporary works; just 38 lots, though 4 seem to have been withdrawn before the start, so we’ll call it 34.

Taking the top spot of the “evening” was Lucian Freud’s David Hockney, a portrait of the acclaimed artist also his longtime friend. They met back in 1962, though this work was completed in 2002 – Hockney sat for more than 100 hours for the painting, and it was included in Freud’s retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in 2012. Expected to bring £8-12M ($11.04-16.56M), the work hammered for £13.1M ($18.08M, or £14.9M/$20.56 with premium). That figure ranks it as the sixth most expensive work by the artist at auction; and the only work to break 8 figures in the sale.

Peter Doig - Blue Mountain

Peter Doig – Blue Mountain

The top three was completed with two works by Peter Doig. Blue Mountain happened to be one of the few that hammered below estimate in the sale; £4.8M ($6.62M) on a £5-7M ($6.9-9.6M) estimate, though once you add in the premium that bumps the price to £5.3 ($7.3M). And Bomb Island hammered at £3.9M ($5.38M and £4.3M/$5.9M with premium), on a £3-5M ($4.14-6.9M estimate). Both works have been in private collections since the 90s, meaning this is the first time either has appeared at auction.

Peter Doig - Bomb Island

Peter Doig – Bomb Island

A few lots saw nice performances relative to the expectations… those results included works by Hockney (£410K hammer on a £150-200K estimate), Hurvin Anderson (£200K hammer on a £40-60K estimate), and Dame Magdalene Odundo (£300K hammer on a £60-90K estimate). Conversely, there were 6 lots that went below their estimate along with 4 that failed to find buyers. Works by Sir John Lavery and Euan Uglow were the most significant underperformers, hammering 20% below estimate; failed lots included works by Ben Nicholson, Bridget Riley, Henry Moore, and Peter Lanyon – none of which I’d consider major lots in the sale.

When the session closed, the total take was £41.3M hammer or £47.9M with premiums. As I mentioned earlier, 4 works were withdrawn and another 4 went unsold; that left a sell through rate of 88.2% (30/34) –  a respectable figure. They also saw 11 works go above estimate, and 13 within their expected range, yielding an estimate accuracy rate of 41%!