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    Saturday, August 19th, 2017

    The lives and loves of the Yeats family will be illuminated in letters, works of art and personal effects to be sold at Sotheby’s in London on September 27.  The sale of over 220 lots from one of Ireland’s most internationally known families of the 20th century comprises the personal effects of John Butler Yeats and his four children, poet W.B., embroidery designer Lily, printing press pioneer Lolly and artist Jack. Highlighting the collection is an archive of 133 letters from WB Yeats to his life long friend and first lover Olivia Shakespear spanning over 40 years from 1894 to 1936.  They offer drafts of his poems, advice on her novels, his work, life and reading and changes in Irish society in a total of about 350 pages.  The estimate is £250,000-350,000.

    The Runaway Horse is the most valuable of the 35 artworks by Jack Yeats in the sale. It is estimated at £150,000-250,000.  The auction  contains the largest ever offering of works by John Butler Yeats (1839-1922) whose eleven sketchbooks depict his family, the Irish countryside and celebrated contemporaries and friends such as John O’Leary, Hugh Lane, Sarah Purser and Mary Walker.  His final self portrait commissioned by the New York lawyer, collector and patron of the arts John Quinn in 1911 is estimated at £30,000-50,000.

    The property is from the three children of Michael Yeats (WB’s son) from the family home near Dublin.  The family have made many generous donations to the National Library over the years including the WB Yeats medal for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    Series of 133 letters signed by WB Yeats to his friend and early lover Olivia Shakespear (250,000-350,000)

    John Butler Yeats – Jack in a straw hat £10,000-15,000

    John Butler Yeats – Self Portrait, New York (30,000-50,000)


    Friday, July 21st, 2017

    A bag once nearly thrown out with the rubbish sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby’s in New York.  It was the one Neil Armstrong used to collect the first ever samples of the moon.

    The outer decontamination bag, which was flown to the moon on Apollo 11 and still carries traces of moon dust and small rock, was sold on the 48th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969.

    Auctioneer Joe Dunning introduced the lot as “an exceptionally rare artifact from mankind’s greatest achievement.” It sold to an anonymous buyer on the telephone following a sluggish five-minute bidding war. Its previous owner was an Illinois lawyer, who bought it in 2015 for $995.

    (See post on for June 1, 2017)


    Friday, July 21st, 2017

    George Frederic Watts(1817-1904) – Orpheus and Eurydice

    One of the greatest compositions by George Frederic Watts, ‘England’s Michelangelo’ sold for £320,750 at Sotheby’s sale of Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite and British Impressionist art in London.  Orpheus and Eurydice remained in Watts’ possession until his death in 1904 when it was inherited by his adopted daughter Lilian. The romantic subject matter may have been inspired by the emotions Watts was experiencing following the breakdown of his first marriage to the young actress Ellen Terry, resulting in their separation after only eleven months.  

    Simon Toll, Sotheby’s Victorian Art Specialist, said: “Orpheus and Eurydice encapsulates everything that made Watts’ art so visionary and revolutionary in the 1860s – powerful drama, a sensual and expressive use of paint and rich colour and reverence for the work of the Italian Old Masters. This hauntingly beautiful vision of lost love is among a handful of his best-known pictures and the most important example of his art to be seen at auction in the last decade and a half. It is fitting that a picture of two lovers emerging from the shadows should itself re-emerge into public view in the year that marks the two-hundred year anniversary of the artist’s birth.”


    Thursday, July 6th, 2017

    J.M.W. Turner – Ehrenbreitstein

    J.M.W Turner’s – Ehrenbreitstein made £18,533,750 at Sotheby’s sale of Old Master Paintings in London last night.  This is the highest price paid for an Old Master at Sotheby’s London since the sale of the artist’s Rome, From Mount Aventine for a record £30,322,500 in 2014.   Last night’s evening sale  realised a total of £52,514,750, a substantial increase on both London sales last year (July 2016: £16.5 million / December 2016: £14.8 million).

    One of the largest sales of its kind, comprising nearly 70 lots, the auction was 85.3% sold by lot, the highest-ever sell-through-rate for any Old Masters sale held at Sotheby’s in London, and the second consecutive sale of its kind  to achieve a sell-through rate of over 80%. Ten works on paper by the artist (among them an early watercolour of Ehrenbreitstein) were sold for a combined £1.3m, which together with Ehrenbreitstein brings the total for works by Turner sold  to £19.8 million.

    (See post on for April 4, 2017)


    Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

    The Coronation of the Doge on the Scala dei Giganti

    There was an auction record for a drawing by Canaletto at Sotheby’s in London today. The Coronation of the Doge on the Scala dei Giganti sold for £2.6 million.

    Greg Rubinstein, Worldwide Head of Old Master Drawings at Sotheby’s, said: “The record price realised today for Canaletto’s superb drawing is a fitting testimony to its importance and its quality. Nothing like it has been seen at auction. A more total expression of the essence of Canaletto’s genius as a draughtsman than this extraordinary drawing, which transports us to the very heart of 18th-century Venice, in all its glory, wit and mystery, is hard to imagine.”

    Canaletto continues to draw crowds in London, both at Sotheby’s pre-sale exhibition and at The Queen’s Gallery, where Canaletto & the Art of Venice remains on view until 12 November.


    Monday, July 3rd, 2017

    Jean Baptiste Clésinger (1814-1883), Cléopâtre mourante (The Dying Cleopatra), 1861, white marble (£100,000-150,000)

    A wide range of sculptures from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century will come up at Sotheby’s in London in July. The Old Masters evening sale on July 5 will include  a sculpture – a portrait terracotta bust by Pietro Tacca, Giambologna’s pupil, of Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’ Medici (1610-1670) estimated at £1-2 million.

    Auguste Clésinger’s Cléopâtre which comes up at a sale on July 12 is an important rediscovery.  Clésigner executed the marble in Rome and exhibited the model at the Paris Salon of 1861. In order to give this unambiguous nude enough of a veneer of respectability for it to be passed by the Salon jury, the sculptor’s friends urged him to include a snake, twisted around the ankle, in a possible reference to a classical subject, such as Cleopatra. The sculpture was so life-like that the sculptor was accused, with some justification, of using plaster casts of the live model in its creation. With this work Clésinger became famous as a sculptor of the female form. At auction for the first time since 1892 it is estimated at £100,000-200,000.


    Saturday, July 1st, 2017

    This mallet salvaged from Liberty Hall is part of a collection of Easter Rising memorabilia at Sotheby’s English Literature sale in London on July 11.

    The auction will feature a map of Dublin issued to crown forces before going into action in 1916, a rare second printing of The Proclamation, the second manifesto of the provisional government, a propaganda newsletter, news cuttings, postcards and ephemera. The lot is estimated at £15,000-20,000.

    A half sheet of the original proclamation is estimated at £6,000-8,000.  The sale includes the first Irish printed edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost and a c1753 review of The Revenue Laws of Ireland.


    Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

    Andy Warhol – Self Portrait 1963-64.

    Andy Warhol’s first “selfie” sold for £6 million at Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction in London tonight.  The work, from his  first series of self-portraits, million / $7.7  was at auction for the first time 30 years after the artist’s death in 1987.  After achieving renown for his candid portrayals of luminaries including Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor in the early 1960s, Self-Portrait represents the moment that Warhol stepped out from behind the camera and into the glare of its flashbulb.  This painting belongs to the very first sequence of self-portraits created by Warhol and was based on the first image in a strip of photo booth portraits.  The use of such unconventional source material was, at this time, fiercely innovative.

    “In the age of Instagram, Warhol’s fabled prediction that ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ has never felt more prophetic, and the artist’s first self-portraits – created using a strip of photographs taken in a New York dime store photo-booth – have never felt more relevant to contemporary culture. This is a work of immense art historical importance that marks the watershed moment when Warhol joined the canon of the greatest self-portraitists,” James Sevier, Senior Specialist, Contemporary Art, remarked.

    The sale totalled £62.3 million, an increase of 20% on last year. Au Untitled work by Jean Michel Basquiat from 1983  made £6.4 million.


    Monday, June 26th, 2017

    Josef Albers – Colour Study for Homage to the Square  UPDATE: THIS SOLD FOR £168,750

    A colour study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers (1888-1976) to be sold to benefit Cork’s Lewis Glucksman Gallery comes up at Sotheby’s contemporary art day auction in London on June 29.   Made in 1976 the oil on paper is estimated at £80,000-120,000. It is to be included in the catalogue raisonne currently being prepared by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, who donated the work.

    A statement from the Bethany, Connecticut based foundation said:   The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation is delighted to sell this powerful Homage to the Square on behalf of the Glucksman Gallery. We feel that this particular oil on paper represents the bold experimentation and true dedication to human seeing, and the thrills of courageous art,  consistently achieved at this superb museum at University College Cork, Ireland. The small, innovative staff of the Glucksman, diligent and tenacious people of vision, embody the values the Alberses held most dear.


    Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

    Lucian Freud Strawberries – oil on copper

    The record for Kandinsky was broken twice in one night, there was a new record for Miro and Lucian Freud’s actual size strawberries made £120,875 per strawberry at a sterling night at Sotheby’s in London last night.  Three works made over £20 million for the first time in any London auction. The Actual Size and Impressionist and Modern evening sales brought in a combined total of £148.9 million. Kandinsky’s Murnau – Landschaft kit grunem Haus made a new record for the artist of £21 million followed just six lots later by Bild kit weissen Linien which sold for £33 million. Femme et oiseau by Joan Miro from his Constellation series sold for £24.6 million. A unique cast by Giacometti made £17.9 million. A small group of strawberries by Lucian Freud made £1.2 million.

    Helena Newman, Global Co-Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department & Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, said: “To have three landmarks in the development of 20th Century art by Kandinsky, Miró and Giacometti come to the market in a single sale tonight was momentous. These key works stand as turning points in the history of art, and tonight auction history was made when the record for Kandinsky broken not just once but twice and an unprecedented three works sold over £20m in a single London Evening Sale. The strength at the very highest level of the market was echoed across price points – and sizes. Collectors were out in force, participating from a record number of locations around the globe, with the level of Asian buyers as numerous as those from the US, underscoring the enduring importance of London as a key driver of the global art market.”

    Joan Miró’s Femme et oiseaux

    Helena Newman finds bids during the sale of Wassily Kandinsky’s Bild mit weissen Linien for £33 million.