Top 10: British Artists



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the 10 best auction results for British artists of all generations over the past eight months.

The United Kingdom, with its conservative, nationalist and imperialist history, was later than other European countries in accepting the artistic avant-garde. However, it caught up rapidly thanks to exchanges with Pablo PICASSO who played an important role in the acceptance of “Modernity” in the United Kingdom. The legacy of Picasso’s work has left an indelible mark on British art and his work inspired many famous artists including the top two dominant Moderns: David HOCKNEY and Henry MOORE (who has 6 places in this ranking!). Also renowned for its nineteenth century landscape artists whose prices regularly set new auction records, it is difficult to imagine a general classification (all periods combined) without their presence. Although Joseph Mallord William TURNER is absent, a masterpiece by John CONSTABLE heads the ranking with a result of over $31.3m! Another key nineteenth century British artist, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel ROSSETTI, takes 9th place. The dynamism of the Contemporary British scene is also reflected with an unprecedented result for the painter Glenn BROWN (>$7.16m). In London, auction records are supported by the prestigious sales of Christie’s and Sotheby’s who each generated half of the results in this Top. With an entry ticket of $2.05m, the results of these last 8 months demonstrate the dynamism of the market for British artists worldwide.

Top 10 : British Artists

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 John CONSTABLE $31356000 The Lock (1824) 07/03/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
2 Henry MOORE $26841300 Reclining Figure : Festival (1951) 02/07/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
3 Glenn BROWN $7162660 The Tragic Conversion of Salvador Dalí (After John Martin) 06/26/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
4 Henry MOORE $7105050 Working Model for Three Piece No. 3 : Vertebrae (1968) 02/07/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
5 Henry MOORE $5176050 Mother and Child with Apple (1956) 06/19/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
6 Henry MOORE $4591280 Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop (1963) 02/08/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
7 Henry MOORE $4400000 Reclining Figure (1956) 05/01/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
8 David HOCKNEY $3425620 Swimming Pool (1965) 06/26/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
9 Dante Gabriel ROSSETTI $2959820 The Salutation of Beatrice (1869) 05/31/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
10 Henry MOORE $2058160 Figure (1933/34) 02/08/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)

In top position, John Constable’s masterpiece The Lock caused a sensation firstly when the decision by its owner (Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza) to sell the work generated a good deal of excitement among top curators and collectors of the artist’s work, and then subsequently by setting a much higher new record for the artist at $31.36m in July 2012. The work, which was previously exhibited at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, is now in private hands. One of six paintings in the Stour series, this rural scene was acquired in 1990 at a Sotheby’s auction at London (November 14th) when it already fetched a record sum $19.1m.

Largely dominating this ranking with six sculptures, Henry Moore’s timeless work was widely celebrated by the market in 2012.The six sculptures sold this year have already pushed the annual auction revenue of Henry Moore, one of the most original artists of his time, beyond $50m. In fact, since his auction debut in 1986, his sculptures (which account for 92% of his revenue over the last 15 years) have generated dizzying results, including more than 70 above the $1m threshold! Triggering a genuine bidding war when it went on sale at Christie’s on 7 February 2012, his Reclining Figure : Festival, a magnificent bronze of extraordinary sensuality, set the artist’s latest auction record at more than $26.84m, three times its high estimate! This result is way above his previous record for Three-piece reclining Figure: draped which fetched $7.5m at Sotheby’s New York in 2004. The “Reclining Figure” (a series started in 1930) is Moore’s most common subject, which he revisited more than a hundred times throughout his career. An emblematic work of this series, Reclining Figure: Festival is considered his first sculpture where form and space are one, dependent on each other.

Generating two results in this ranking, Sotheby’s Contemporary art evening sale on 26 June 2012 gave a superb new record to Glenn Brown and enabled David Hockney to reconcile with earlier records. Glenn Brown’s oil on canvas The Tragic Conversion of Salvador Dali (After John Martin) fetched nearly double its high estimate when it sold for more than $7.16m. This reinterpretation of John MARTIN’s apocalyptic work Great Day of His Wrath dethroned his former record for Dali-Christ by more than $5m awarded (Dali-Christ fetched nearly $1.9m on 30 June 2010 at Christie’s London). Meanwhile, David Hockney’s Swimming Pool confirmed collectors’ interest for the artist’s key works. Already offered for sale on 12 October 2007 at Sotheby’s London, its owner had acquired the work for $2.1m before selling it five years later for an additional $1.2m!

With the sale of his sublime portrait, The Salutation of Beatrice, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti approached his record of over $3.58m generated by his masterpiece Pandora, a large pastel of 94 x 66 cm, on 14 June 2000 at Christie’s London. Fetching nearly $2.96m and from a private Scottish collection, The Salutation of Beatrice portrait was previously unknown to experts of the artist. Painted in 1869, the work represents his muse and forbidden love, Jane Morris, the wife of his partner artist / designer William Morris. The title of the work associates Jane Morris with Dante’s Beatrice, the incarnation of beatific love. With 161 auction results to his name since his auction debut in 1986, the market of Dante Gabriel Rossetti is relatively limited and mostly consists of drawings and water-colours (a total of 144 have been sold at auctions). His oils on canvas are rare (15 in total) as are his key works; however when they surface, his collectors are ready to pounce. Even if they appear to be enjoying renewed interest in recent years, the Pre-Raphaelites (Edward Coley BURNE-JONES, John Everett MILLAIS, etc.) still represent a relatively affordable market compared to most Moderns.

Despite China’s recent dominance of the international marketplace, the UK and its capital, London, has remained – since the eighteenth century – a key location for the art market and it is still an unavoidable stepping-stone in the career paths of many an artist seeking to build an international reputation and price status. An excellent breeding ground for creative and innovative talent, the UK is clearly good at providing support for its artists: 90% of the works in this ranking changed hands in London.