Issue Number: 92
Scott Reyburn surveys the season’s upcoming sales and recommends the best buys, from British antiques to tribal art
These are strange times for the UK’s art and antiques trade. Contemporary art has never been so hair-raisingly expensive, mainstream auctions of traditional pictures, furniture, ceramics and silver never so worryingly cheap. What remains between these two extremes that might represent a sensible investment?
Herbert James Gunn RA, Portrait of Lady Whinney, c.1927 There is always Modern British art, of course. September’s 20/21 British Art Fair at the Royal College of Art is the perfect place to gain an overview of a thriving market that is reassuringly less volatile than contemporary, yet still offers plenty of affordable names that have yet to be fully ‘discovered’. Now in its nineteenth year, the fair showcases the sector’s 60 leading dealers, ranging from the biggest London galleries like Agnew’s, Marlborough Fine Art and Richard Green to smaller regional names selling prints and works on paper for just a few hundred pounds.
Plenty of individual dealers will also be putting on shows in their galleries. For example, The Fine Art Society mounts a mini-overview of Modern British art with their autumn exhibition, ‘The Twentieth Century’. Here serious items, with prices in the five figures, such as the superb 1938 Eric Ravilious watercolour, Salt Marsh, are joined by unusual, entry-level pieces like a Barbara Hepworth 1955 screenprint design for a place-mat.
Christie’s offers dealer Peter Nahum’s collection of some 300 British surrealist and avant-garde paintings, watercolours and drawings, including work by Robert Colquhoun, Jacob Epstein, William Scott and Patrick Heron.
When it comes to buying traditional, it’s best to think international. Leading London-based Asian art specialist Simon Ray sees Indian miniatures as a particularly canny buy at the moment. ‘We’re now meeting Indian clients who want to buy twentieth-century Indian art, but who can’t get into the market. They’re beginning to look at older Indian painting because it’s so much more affordable. Where else can you buy museum quality art for under £50,000?’
If the budget doesn’t stretch to one of Ray’s superb Mughul miniatures, then why not drop into Francesca Galloway’s September clearout sale. Galloway offers classic Indian drawings and paintings from as little as £200, prior to moving into her new gallery in Dover Street. ‘Hindu paintings made in Rajasthan in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have a lot of mileage. They’re inexpensive and full of descriptive detail,’ she points out. Galloway and Ray are joining dozens of other dealers, auctioneers and museums participating in November’s Asian Art in London event, an essential nine-day celebration of London’s continuing pre-eminence as the global capital of expertise in Oriental art.
Tribal art is another area with enduring international appeal. Bonhams, Bond Street, offers a nineteenth-century collection of 150 objects made by the tribal people of the Northwest Coast (now British Columbia, Canada), best-known for their totem poles of mythical figures. The works here include ceremonial pipes and dishes carved mostly out of dense black slate, vividly decorated with animals, fish and birds. Estimates range from £200 to 20,000.
If you just want to decorate your home and are not worried about making a profit, why not do something truly weird and buy some traditional English antiques? Sotheby’s is holding an on-the-premises sale at Shrubland Hall, Suffolk, the former seat of Lord de Saumarez. With 1400 lots under the hammer, this grand early nineteenth-century Italianate pile (yours for £23 million) is bound to yield up some bargains.
20/21 British Art Fair, Royal College of Art (13–17 Sep; 020 8742 1611; British Art Fair )
Christie’s, ‘The Poetry Of Crisis: The Peter Nahum Collection of British Surrealist and Avant-Garde Art’ (15 Nov; 020 7839 9060; Christies )
The Fine Art Society, ‘The 20th Century’ (26 Sep–20 Oct; 020 7629 5116; The Fine Art Society )
Simon Ray (020 7930 5500; Simon Ray )
Francesca Galloway, ‘Moving Sale’, 91B Jermyn Street, SW1 (11–21 Sep; 020 7930 8717; Francesca Galloway ; from October at 31 Dover Street, W1)
Asian Art in London (2–10 Nov; 020 7499 2215; Asian Art in London )
Bonhams, ‘Tribal Art Sale’ (20 Sep; 020 7468 8332; Bonhams )
Sotheby’s, Shrubland Hall, Suffolk (19–21 Sep; 020 7293 6000; Sothebys )