The Collection of London art dealer Leslie Waddington which went under the hammer at Christie’s yesterday saw an electric start to the much-anticipated Frieze Week auctions. The single-owner auction: saw bidding for the highly sought after personal collection, achieve £28,285,525 / $36,092,330 / €32,273,784 with every work sold.
The sale was a fitting tribute to Leslie Waddington whose pioneering spirit as an art dealer defined the London art landscape before the rise in popularity of the contemporary art world today. The auction saw competitive bidding in the room, online and on phones to achieve the exceptional sell-through rate of 100% by lot and 100% by value with 80% of works selling overestimate. Registered bidders from 37 countries across six continents demonstrated the strong demand in the global art market.
The evening opened with a portrait of Leslie Waddington by Sir Peter Blake, which more than doubled its high estimate to achieve £81,250 / $103,675 / €92,706. This level of bidding set the pace for the evening and continued with the first of seven works by Jean Dubuffet realising five times its low estimate, and the group achieving a total of £6,708,000 / $8,559,408 / €7,653,828. Another early highlight was Spanish Elegy by Robert Motherwell which sold for £905,000 / $1,154,780 / €1,032,605 against an estimate of £200,000-300,000.
The top lot of the evening was Jean Dubuffet’s Visiteur au chapeau bleu (Visitor with a Blue Hat), selling over its high estimate for £4,813,000 / $6,141,388 / €5,491,633. Bristling with raw painterly energy, it offers a primordial vision of bucolic joie de vivre. Executed in April 1955, it stands among the finest large-scale works that the artist produced during the first few months of his six-year sojourn in the South of France.
World records at auction were set for Michael Craig-Martin, whose painting Las Meninas I realised £149,000 / $190,124 / €170,009 and Amedée Ozenfant, which achieved £557,000 / $710,732 / €635,537. Records in the medium were set for Francis Picabia’s rare work on paper Lampe, which sold for £3,637,000 / $4,640,812 / €4,149,817, double its high estimate of £1,500,000, and Patrick Caulfield’s work on paper Les Demoiselles d’Avignon Vues de Derrière (£233,000 / $297,308 / €265,853).
The auction saw further stand-out results for works by 20th-century icons, including Josef Albers, Alexander Calder, Milton Avery, Agnes Martin, and works by many of the contemporary artists he represented, and with whom he developed enduring friendships, including Sir Peter Blake, Barry Flanagan, and Patrick Caulfield.
From his arrival in London in 1957, Leslie Waddington rose to become one of the most influential fine art dealers in modern times. Witty, erudite, and inimitably principled, Waddington spent over half a century promoting the ground-breaking work of Modern, Post-War, and Contemporary artists. This vision left an indelible mark on the history of British collecting and patronage and is embodied in his private collection. Born in Dublin in 1934, Leslie Waddington was the son of gallery owner Victor Waddington and his wife, Zelda. In the late 1950s Victor Waddington returned to London, where he opened a gallery on Cork Street. Accompanying him was the 24year-old Leslie, who would soon become a director at his father’s business. In 1966 he opened his own space, Waddington Galleries, alongside business partner Lord Alexander Bernstein. Waddington Galleries swiftly grew and by the late 1980s, Cork Street was home to five Waddington spaces. In 2013, Nicholas Serota presented Leslie Waddington with the Federation of European Art Galleries Award in Basel, lauding Waddington as an individual “without equal in the profession”.
Katharine Arnold, Head of Evening Auction, Christie’s: “Leslie Waddington was one of the earliest supporters of Frieze Art Fair. As such, it is particularly apt that his Collection was sold the night before the fair opens.
Katharine Arnold, Head of Evening Auction, Christie’s: “Leslie Waddington was one of the earliest supporters of Frieze Art Fair. As such, it is particularly apt that his Collection was sold the night before the fair opens. Tonight’s outstanding results were a fitting tribute to one of the art world’s great dealers – Leslie Waddington was a ground-breaking figure and taste-maker who pioneered contemporary art in London, long before the proliferation of galleries and art institutions in the city. Leslie introduced the art world to artists from Jean Dubuffet to Patrick Caulfield, bringing the British and European aesthetic to America for the first time, and American Abstract Expressionism to London. The results from the auction offer real assurance and continued strength to the globalised art market, with a particularly energetic response for those artists that Leslie Waddington nurtured throughout their careers.”