Henry Moore’s ground-breaking 1951 modernist sculpture Reclining Figure: Festival (£24.7m) led Christie’s 250th anniversary auction Defining British Art on 30 June, the sale achieved £99,479,500/$133,203,051 — which included the highest price ever achieved for a work by Moore. Described as ‘one of the great masterpieces of Moore’s œuvre’ by Cyanna Chutkow, Christie’s Deputy Chairman of Impressionist & Modern Art, the work was one of eight to establish a world auction record, in a sale that celebrated four centuries of British art.
Privately held in an American collection for almost a half century, the work was presented alongside large-scale sculptures by some of British art’s most iconic names including Sea Form (Atlantic), 1964 by Dame Barbara Hepworth, sold for £3,554,500/$4,759,476, and Back to Venice, 1988, by Lynn Chadwick, sold for £1,650,500/$2,210,020, a new world auction record.
Additional records were set for Untitled (Diagonal Curve), 1966, an early work by Bridget Riley, sold for £4,338,500/$5,809,252, and Sir Alfred James Munnings’ H.M. the Queen and Aureole in the Paddock at the Epsom before the Coronation Cup, which sold for five times its estimate, realising £2,098,500/$2,809,892.
Auctioned for the first time in 100 years, Golden Hours, 1864, by Frederic, Lord Leighton achieved a new world auction record for the artist, selling for £3,274,500/$4,384,556. Records were also established for Frank Auerbach, Samuel John Peploe, David Roberts and Thomas Daniell.
Commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for the 1951 Festival of Britain, Reclining Figure: Festival served as a focal point of London’s newly-built South Bank, coming, for many, to represent the resilience and inventiveness of the British people in the wake of the Second World War.
The work was the artist’s first, large reclining figure to be cast in bronze, and, in many ways, represented the pinnacle of the artist’s exploration of the reclining human form from the 1920s, and his pioneering attempt to combine the body with a sense of both landscape and space.
Moore himself claimed that Reclining Figure: Festival was the ‘first sculpture in which I succeeded in making form and space sculpturally inseparable’ and singled it out as one of the most important sculptures of his entire œuvre.
From its conception, the artist seemed aware that the work would prove to be a landmark in the history of his art and, in 1951, in conjunction with the filmmaker John Read, ensured that every stage of the genesis of the work was documented for what became the first of a series of ground-breaking documentary films by Read on the artist at work.
Created three years after Moore was awarded the International prize for sculpture at the 1948 Venice Biennale, Reclining Figure: Festivalwas made from Moore’s plaster original, now in the Tate Gallery, London, and is one of an edition of five bronze casts and one artist’s proof.
The first bronze cast of the work that Moore made is the version that was displayed at the Festival of Britain in 1951, later acquired by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris also owns one cast. Christie’s set a world record price for Moore when another cast from the edition was sold for £19,081,250 in London, February 2012.
20th Century at Christie’s concluded on 30 June with a total for the season of £212,545,850 / $291,370,503 / €258,869,958. Strong overall sell-through rates of 82% by value and 81% by lot demonstrated Christie’s expertise at anticipating the market with accurate estimates across all price points and precision selling. Twenty records were set for artists including Bernard Buffet, Lynn Chadwick, Alexandre da Cunha, Stanley Cursiter, Duncan Grant, Frederic Lord Leighton, Henry Moore, Samuel Peploe, Carol Rama, Bridget Riley, Sean Scully and Thomas Daniell. Christie’s achieved seven of the top ten auction prices of the season across all houses, underlining its leading position in the market. A highlight saw Defining British Art, a cross-category evening sale that celebrates Christie’s 250th-anniversary year, achieve a stand-out total of £99,479,500 and set a record for the most expensive British sculpture sold at auction. A further nine sales were presented over 16 days as part of 20th Century and saw registered bidders from 75 countries across six continents confirming the global position of collecting today, which is constantly evolving and expanding.