A group of 20 works from the renowned collection of David Thomson goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s 10th December 2013. ‘Abstraction’ brings to the market major works by Alan Davie, Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton and William Scott. Together they represent one of the best groups of post-war British Abstract Art to come to the market.
In presenting ‘Abstraction’ at this moment in time, David Thomson alongside Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art experts hope to restore to these artists the international standing they enjoyed back in the 1950s and 60s when their works were the latest word in contemporary art.
David Thomson comments, “A gradual but marked renewal of interest in these artists over the past few years has been evident, yet deeper appreciation lies ahead. The five artists form an interlocked community of aesthetics. They share an expressive power and inherent sensibility towards light and atmosphere. A collection needs to evolve and seek further dimension through both release and acquisition. The movement of these works from our collection is the result of articulation or refinement after years of communion with the objects.”
Speaking about the forthcoming sale, Frances Christie, Head of Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art Department said: “It is a dream scenario to collaborate with a collector as discerning and knowledgeable as David Thomson, whose approach to selecting art across a variety of categories has resulted in a collection that is among the very greatest of our time. By forming a tightly curated group of works from his collection, this sale has the potential to highlight the significance of these five artists. The pre-sale response to Abstraction has already been internationally widespread and hugely enthusiastic. Collectors are well aware that this sale offers a rare opportunity to buy some of the most sought after examples by these artists.”
What united many important painters of the Post-War period such as these is the urge to move forward and approach their art with a spirit of adventure, exploring new imagery and techniques. The works included in this sale show the willingness of these artists to explore just what was meant by ‘abstract’ and ‘abstraction, resulting in works of enormous impact and power. These artists are united by a shared passion to move the boundaries, and they all, as Roger Hilton memorably wrote, ‘submit… entirely to the unknown… like a man swinging out into the void’.
Just as New York began to rival Paris as the centre of Modern Art in the years following the Second World War, Britain became a dynamic hub for the transfer of ideas back and forth across the Atlantic. As Patrick Heron stated in his review of the
seminal exhibition Modern Art in the United States at the Tate in 1956, ‘we shall watch New York as eagerly as Paris for new developments (not forgetting our own, let me add) – and it may come as a consolidation rather than a further exploration’.
Commenting on these international artistic interconnections, Simon Hucker, Deputy Director of Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art Department said, “The paintings in this sale are perfect examples of how Britain became a hub for the transfer of ideas between Europe and America. There are elements of European Surrealism, French Tachisme, as well as New York School Abstract Expressionism and yet all of these strands are given a distinct and unique twist. It is a dialogue, with British art carrying as much weight as its European and American counterparts. Whilst today we might think of a globalised art world as a recent phenomenon, in fact the immediate Post-War period was defined by an exchange of ideas across oceans through shared exhibitions, critical writings and, most importantly, through the close friendships forged between artists, such as William Scott’s friendship with Mark Rothko.”
A story that wonderfully demonstrates the unexpected international artistic interconnections of this era is that of how Alan Davie’s work came to be in the collection of Peggy Guggenheim. In 1948 he hitchhiked to the first post-war Venice Biennale and created a pop up gallery, where Guggenheim came across his work. Responding to her first viewing of his work she exclaimed that she had seen “an exciting painting by a young Scotsman named Alan Davie. I could hardly believe my eyes. It seemed so out of place in old Venice.” Later he was invited by his new patron to see her collection of contemporary American paintings, and through this visit Davie would have been one of the first European artists to come across the early works of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Of the five painters represented in ‘Abstraction’, four – Alan Davie, Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon and William Scott – showed regularly in New York’s most cutting-edge galleries of the 50s and early 60s; whilst the fifth – Roger Hilton – found acclaim for his unique work in Europe. All of them would be feted at the international art biennials of Venice and Sao Paulo.
David Thomson’s art collection is internationally renowned for both its museum quality and stunning breadth of collecting interest – ranging from antiquities to photography, Inuit art to Joseph Beuys, medieval sculpture to the sketches and drawings of Constable and Turner. The epicentre of the collection has always been represented by the works of the Post-war British artists Davie, Heron, Lanyon, Hilton and Scott. As such, this sale comes from the collection’s beating heart.