Lord and Lady Attenborough’s Modern British art collection goes under the hammer November 2016, at Sotheby’s London. The Attenborough’s first started collecting British art in the 1940s and it was a hobby and a passion that endured throughout their lives. On 22 – 23 November, Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British art sales will offer 37 works from their celebrated private collection, assembled with immense passion and a very distinctive eye. This will take place alongside a single-owner auction of exceptional Picasso ceramics, please find a separate press release here. “By instinct, my father was an internationalist. But, when pressed, as far as art and music were concerned, he would admit to an unapologetic love of all things British. Especially of his own time, the period that spanned his life, the twentieth century…Dad never bought a painting, sculpture or ceramic as an investment. He bought it because he loved it because he wanted to live with it, because he knew it would give him infinite pleasure. And, yes, because he believed passionately that the arts have the capacity to enrich our lives, to humanise.” Michael Attenborough, CBE
“Following our landmark white-glove sale in 2009 of 50 works from the personal collection of Lord and Lady Attenborough, we are honoured once again to present a selection of exciting pieces by the key artists of the 20th-century – each testament to the exceptional eye and taste of a couple who inspired an international audience with their artistic output.” – Frances Christie, Head of Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art
Henry Moore, Shelter Drawing, 1942 (est. £150,000-250,000) see top photo ‘But the scenes of the shelter world, static figures asleep – reclining figures – remained vivid in my mind, I felt somehow drawn to it all. Here was something I couldn’t help doing’ (Henry Moore) The art that resulted from the Second World War was inevitably very different in character to that of WWI, as the siege-like nature of the conflict brought the general populace to the fore. Evident in Henry Moore’s Shelter Drawings is a superb ability to express a very real sense of human existence in adversity – a fact that gave them extraordinary public appeal. Following the outbreak of war, unlike a number of other artists, Moore had kept his studio in Hampstead and, like most Londoners, tried to retain the semblance of as normal a life as possible. On 11 September 1940, Moore and his wife were returning home from supper with friends, choosing to travel on the tube as their car was temporarily out of action. The sirens sounded during their journey and by the time they had got to their home station, Belsize Park, Moore had become fascinated by the large numbers of people sheltering on the station platforms. He made his first drawing of the subject the following day and was then to return many times in the next few months to anonymously study the people gathered there. In December 1940, Moore showed some of the sketchbooks to Sir Kenneth Clark, whose immediate excitement resulted in enlarged versions of the works being acquired by the War Artists Advisory Committee. The sense of stoic resilience appeared to be perfectly in tune with the official propaganda direction, and the public exposure that resulted from this secured the artist’s popular appeal.
Painted in 1930, Still Life with Mug Decorated with Stag marks a highly pivotal moment in the development of Ben Nicholson’s style – moving away from the traditional approach of his father William Nicholson’s still-lifes. Nicholson relinquished established ideas, instead exploring the treatment of the surface, the pictorial space, and the synthesis of representation and abstraction. This piece encapsulates this exploration, with a confident yet stylised line that simplifies the objects to their most pared down form. Having married Winifred in 1920, Nicholson and his first wife travelled extensively in Europe during the early 1920s. In this work, the interlocking shapes and flattened perspective clearly allude to cubist influences and more specifically to Picasso and Braque’s Synthetic Cubism developed in the first decades of the 20th-century. During the same period, Nicholson also became particularly good friends with Christopher Wood, and together with Winifred they formed an impressive union dedicated to the pursuit of a modernist life and style.
The defining British artist of the First World War, C.R.W. Nevinson’s avant-garde compositions were infused with a powerful emotional impact. Within a few weeks of the outbreak of war, Nevinson journeyed to the front and began his brief stint as an ambulance driver helping to tend hundreds of terribly wounded soldiers. The deeply disturbing sights he witnessed, evidence of what havoc modern weapons could inflict on the human body, stayed with him for the rest of his life. Instead of celebrating the machine-age, Nevinson then employed the Futurist angularity and technique to depict the bleak and tragic reality of the ‘Great War’.
‘Although these painters still represented the natural world they did so with a freedom and independence which completely captured my enthusiasm. Metaphorically, I boarded the train to Paris overnight and immersed myself in the subjective freedom and abstract representation of the School of Paris’ Victor Pasmore was accepted into the elite of British avant-garde, even joining the prestigious London group, established by the likes of Harold Gilman, David Bomberg and Percy Wyndham Lewis. Just a few years later in 1937, established the ‘Euston Road School’ of painting – seeking to encourage art that was socially relevant to the world in the midst of a deep recession and on the brink of the Second World War. With a precise and subtly arranged composition, this work is a prime example of the Euston Road style. The traditional subject matter is depicted with a muted palette, in a free and effective application of colour and form. Pasmore was brought to abstraction through the still life subject and the flattened pictorial plane and broad brushstrokes reveal both the influence of Cézanne and a move away from naturalism.