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  • 20th-Century British Art at Sotheby's
    February 16, 2005 LONDON, UK.

    William Scott, Four Forms, Blue on White (1971, est: £25,000-£35,000)

    The market for works by 20th-century British artists has grown apace in recent years, and Sotheby's sale of 20th Century British Art on Thursday, March 10, 2005 is set to provide further indication of continuing demand. March's sale is replete with high quality works, many of which have been consigned for sale in response to recent high prices achieved in the field.

    Sotheby's sale of 20th Century British Art last November set no fewer than nine new auction records, many of these for works by post-war artists such as William Scott, Terry Frost, Kenneth Martin, Keith Vaughan, William Tillyer, John Wells and Alex MacKenzie. A number of these artists will be represented in the forthcoming sale with works that are set to generate similarly high levels of interest.

    A giant among artists of the post-war era, Irish painter William Scott (1913-1989) has attracted increasing critical and commercial interest in recent times. Last year saw the publication of the first major monograph on Scott - a work that was greeted with critical acclaim and that shed new light on Scott's oeuvre and working methods. Similarly, the market has also shown a pronounced increase in interest in Scott's work of late. (Last November, two works by Scott doubled their pre-sale estimates - one of which, Untitled 1959, established a new aution record for the artist, selling for £201,600.)

    Fittingly, perhaps, March's sale includes a large number of works by the artist, the majority of which come from the collection of the celebrated curator and art-historian Jean-Yves Mock. (A designated sale of his works will be held at Sotheby's Olympia on February 7, 2005.)

    Among the most notable of the works by Scott is a study of his wife Mary, entitled Girl on a Beach, 1939. Painted soon after Scott and Mary had married and moved to Pont-Aven, in France, this unusual work shows the artist exploring new settings (here he abandons the interiors he had previously preferred) and new themes (the mother and child format appears here for the first time, a consequence of Mary's newly-pregnant state).

    Of similar importance, a number of later works beautifully demonstrate Scott's mastery of the abstract idiom with which he is most commonly associated. Here, as in other works of the period, Scott's painting is characterised by an intense pre-occupation with texture and form. These include Four Forms, Blue on White (1971, est: £25,000-£35,000); Still Life with Egg and Spatula (est: £12,000-£18,000); Pale Blue, White Linear (1972, est: £25,000-35,000); White Form, 1971 (est: £12,000-£18,000) and Two Whites 1963 (est: £20,000-£30,000).

    Like Scott, Robert Bevan (1865-1925) had worked in France, and had come into contact with Gaugin in Pont-Aven in 1893-4. He subsequently married a Polish woman and visited her family's estate, where in 1903 he painted The Courtyard - a highly original work which anticipates Fauvism by at least a year. Contemporary reviews of the work's first showing in 1905 singled it out for violent abuse: it was variously described as "garish" and as having "an evil habit of losing control over itself" - assessments which presaged the wider response that would greet the exhibitions of Post-Impressionist and Fauve art later in the decade.

    In addition to Scott and Bevan, in recent years, there has also been a similar upturn in interest in a number of other artists. At Sotheby's in November last year, a work from Kenneth Martin's (1905-1984) 'Chance and Order' series (Chance & Order 4 (Green)), made the record price of £25,200. Now, that price will again be challenged with the appearance of another - later- work from the series. Estimated at £10,000-£15,000*, Chance Order Change 19 (4 Colours) Symmetry A dates from the early 1980s. Like the other works in the series, it belongs to a group of studies that Martin began after the death of his wife Mary in 1969. The idea behind the series was that "chance" should coincide with the controlled hand of the artist: Martin would draw a grid with numbers along each axis, then pick random numbers "out of a hat" and use these as the determining coordinates of the start and finish lines of the painting.

    Terry Frost (1915-2003) is another artist whose work provokes ever-increasing competition. In November last year, Yellow Quay (Sotheby's, lot 93) established a new auction record for the artist, selling for £45,600. Its success has attracted the consignment of a work of similar importance dating from the same year (1952), when Frost was working in St. Ives. Estimated at £30,000-£40,000, Night Harbour shows Frost seeking to express the sense of place and movement found in the harbour of St. Ives in an abstract idiom.

    The work of John Tunnard (1900-1971) has been the subject of similarly strong demand in recent years. (In June 2003, his Painting, 1944 made a record £86,240 at Sotheby's.) He is represented in the forthcoming sale by various works, including what is undoubtedly his last masterpiece. Executed in 1969, just two years before his death, Messenger (est: £40,000-£60,000, right) is one of the largest works Tunnard ever painted, and it brings together virtually every theme that had ever concerned him (science, surrealism, jazz). There is no evidence at all in this monumental work of the artist's rapidly declining health, and it is full of the notoriously complex media and painting techniques that have intrigued curators and collectors ever since.

    One artist for whom the auction record is rather longer standing is Mark Gertler (1891-1939), whose Boxers 1918 was sold by Sotheby's for £55,000 in 197. The forthcoming sale will contain another painting of the same subject which - previously in the collection of the artist Josef Herman - has not been seen in public since 1955 (est: £20,000-£30,000).

    Cornish artist Peter Lanyon was passionate about his native landscape, and he was also acutely aware of contemporary developments in America. In 1957, he exhibited in New York. His work was warmly received - not just by the critics, but also by native artists such as Motherwell, Gottlieb, Rothko and de Kooning.

    Paintings such as Shore Weed (est: £20,000-£30,000) exemplify the bold manner - the brightening and simplification of palette, and the expansiveness - that came as a result of Lanyon's contact with American art. Painted in 1963, the work has been consigned for sale by the Warwick Arts Trust, in London. In an attempt to raise money to fund musical scholarships and other bursaries, the Trust is also selling a number of other works. A number (by Pierre Soulages and Asger Jorn) will be offered in Sotheby's Contemporary Sale on February 11th; and the remainder will be sold 20th-Century British sale. They include. Heavenly Denizen (est: £5,000-£7,000) and Quas (est: £4,000-£6,000) by John Hoyland, Tooth Transport (est: £4,000-£6,000) by Alan Gouk, June (est £5,000-7,000) by Patrick Heron and Horizon (est: £5,000-£7,000) by Kenneth Draper.

    Finally, March's sale includes a work by one of Britain's most celebrated artists of the post-war era. Painted in 1962-3, Howard Hodgkin's Hotel is an icon of its time. Reproduced in Lord Snowdon's Private View (pub.1965) - a dazzling first-hand account of all that was hip and happening in London in the 60s - Hotel stands as testimony to the status Hodgkin has always enjoyed. (A major exhibition of his work is to be shown at the Tate Britain in the summer of 2006.)