On Wednesday, October 19th, Christie’s London hosted their Modern British and Irish evening sale. It was a relatively short affair, with only twenty-nine available lots in about an hour. The house specialists were more or less in the right area regarding estimates and the top lots. They accurately predicted that the top spot would go to Going to the Match by Laurence Stephen Lowry. This moderately sized oil on canvas painting created in 1957 last sold at auction at Sotheby’s London on December 1, 1999 for £1.9M / $3.1M w/p (or £3.3M / $5.5M in 2022 – if adjusting for inflation). Since 2000, it has been on a long-term loan to the galleries at The Lowry in Salford, a small city within Greater Manchester. Christie’s originally gave it a £5M to £8M estimate range, in which it fell at £6.6M / $7.4M (or £7.8M / $8.8M w/p).
Christie’s experts also had high hopes for the two Henry Moore sculptures featured on Wednesday. However, Working Model for Seated Woman, a bronze sculpture created in 1980 and estimated to sell for at least £1.2M, was one of only two lots that went unsold that day. On the other hand, the other Moore sculpture did very well. Working Model for Two Pieces Reclining Figure: Points is another bronze; the eighth casting of a series of ten created between 1969 and 1972. It eventually hit its low estimate at £1.2M.
Because the other Moore sculpture went unsold, third place was a tie between three paintings, each selling for £1M / $1.1M (or £1.2M / $1.4M w/p). The first was Frank Auerbach’s abstract portrait J.Y.M. Seated, which slightly exceeded its original £900K high estimate. Those who follow the market will recognize that another one of Frank Auerbach’s portraits of the same subject sold at Sotheby’s London last Friday, setting the artist’s all-time auction record at £4.7M. The second, which met its £1M low estimate, was another oil on canvas painting by Laurence Stephen Lowry; this one a 1937 full-length portrait of an unknown man simply entitled Unemployed. And finally, something from this century… Bridget Riley’s Painting with Two Verticals 3, is an oil on linen painting from 2005. This enormous work, measuring 26.25 x 104 inches, fell just short of its £1.2M low estimate but did better than its last time across the block. It last sold at Christie’s London on October 7, 2017 for £560.75K / $732.7 w/p (or £668.1K / $887.2K in 2022).
While over a third of the sale’s lots sold above their presale estimates, a small handful exponentially exceeded them. The back-to-back lots Crocuses and Daffodils in Pots by Christopher Wood and The Bridge, Romney Marsh by Paul Nash are rather simple, inoffensive oil paintings estimated to only go for £100K and £120K, respectively. Both works more than doubled their high estimates, selling for £230K / $257.7K (or £289.8K / $324.7K w/p) and £280K / $313.7K (or £352.8K / $395.3K w/p), respectively.
Overall, the sale did relatively well. Out of twenty-nine lots total, eight of them (28%) sold within their presale estimates, with another eight selling below and eleven (38%) selling above. Only two lots failed to sell, giving Christie’s a 93% sold rate. The sale brought in a total of £16.76M or $18.78M, about £2M more than Christie’s minimum expectations.