Christie’s are offering an unusually comprehensive pair of sales of Modern British and Irish art at the end of this month – an Evening Sale for the supposedly posher lots on June 20th, followed by a Day Sale on June 21st. Viewings are from 9th to 14th June at their subsidiary gallery, 130 New Bond Street; then from 16th to 20th June at their main premises in King Street.
While the spread of names is wide, as in all big sales of this type, which are inevitably somewhat randomly sourced, there are some quirky possibilities available. Top lot is likely to be a big Lowry, teeming with figures – a Beach Scene estimated to make up to £1.8 million. This is one of only two estimates that soar into the five-figure zone, the other being an estimate of up to £1.5 million for a bronze seated Mother and Child by Henry Moore. There is no work by Bacon, none by Lucian Freud, to lead punters into the world of stratospheric prices now inhabited by the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Basquiat and Richter. And the sale stops short of featuring any offerings by the leading YBA’s – no Damien, no Tracey, nothing by the Chapman Brothers. The nearest it gets to their world is a rather unimpressive drawing by Sir Anthony Gormley.
This said, there is plenty of fun to be had from what is on offer. Unlike the rather po-faced displays routinely offered by Tate Britain, you get to see things that are slightly off-beam, and all the better for that. For me he outstanding ‘sleeper’ lot – not all that cheaply estimated at between £300,000 and £600,000 – is The Ribbon Counter, dated 1913, by Stanley Cursiter (1887-1976). I must confess to never having heard of this Scottish artist before. Wikipedia tells me he was quite a grandee in his time – a member of the Royal Scottish Academy, Secretary of the Academy from 1953 to 1955, first Secretary of the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland, and Keeper of the National Galleries of Scotland from 1930 to 1948. In 1948 he was appointed as the King’s Painter and Limner for Scotland, a position he held till his death. This doesn’t sound much like a ranking avant-gardist, does it? Yet The Ribbon Counter is a wonderfully exuberant Futurist painting, very much like the work that leading Italian Futurists were producing at the same moment.
Also worth noting is a Duncan Grant male nude, also dated 1913, estimated at £70,000 to £100,000, and much livelier, in a semi-Pointillist style, than the rather routine male nudes Grant produced later on. It has the added interest that the model was George Mallory, best remembered for being one of the two British climbers who, in 1924, vanished in a snowstorm when trying to get to the summit of Mount Everest. His body was not found until 1999. It remains a matter of debate as to whether he and his partner actually achieved their objective or not. The first fully recorded successful attempt did not take place until 1953.
Words: Edward Lucie-Smith Photo: Courtesy Christies © Artlyst 2016