The 20/21 British Art Fair, the only fair which specialises exclusively in British art will take place from 10 – 14 September at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7. It will be opened by Lord Hutton at 5pm on the 10th.
The fair is a key date for collectors of British art and continues to attract an enviably loyal following in London’s busy art fair calendar. Its particular strengths lie in the excellence and range of Modern (1900-1945) and Post-War art (1945 – 1970); however, the fair also has a wide selection of contemporary art (1970 onwards).
Each year the 56 exhibitors bring to their stands a great variety of work, often privately sourced and kept back especially for the fair. The result is a niche event that annually showcases a truly eclectic selection of paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture plus a stand dedicated to photography.
No other event covers so many aspects of British art – from Scottish Colourists, abstraction, surrealism, pop to conceptual, outsider and contemporary figurative and abstract art.
The Modern British market has been going from strength to strength in the auction rooms this year, both in the top and lower end price brackets.
At the top level there have been extraordinary, multi-million pounds prices for paintings by Francis Bacon (William Weston will bring Bacon lithographs to the fair) and Peter Doig in international Post-War and Contemporary art sales, and sculpture by Barbara Hepworth in a modern British art sale. (The 4.2 million pounds Hepworth was the star lot in a sale in which Christie’s demonstrated its intent to market Modern British art to an international audience by holding it together with its major Impressionist and Modern Art sales – a new initiative which is now likely to become a pattern.)
Far from being just a masterpiece market, Modern British art has proved a growing attraction for buyers at the lower end of the market too. Sotheby’s low value ‘Made in Britain’ sale in April sold 85.4% of lots (average price around £10,000) and achieved records for paintings by the little known Reginald Brill, John Armstrong (see below) and for a print by Bridget Riley. Christie’s wound up the summer with a low value sale at South Kensington in July which achieved a record 1.4 million pounds for a modern British sale at that venue, with 87 per cent of lots (average price just under £10,000) selling. These selling rates are unusually strong and tell their own story.
Among the well and not so well known artists whose work has achieved record levels at auction this year, many will have work included at the 20/21 British Art Fair. Among the sculptors will be:
Elisabeth Frink, whose large seated man sold at Christie’s for £1.1 million, will be represented by no less than seven galleries. Beaux Arts, London, will show a small bronze ‘Head’ from 1967, while Christopher Kingzett will bring a 1956 ‘Small Warrior’.
Works by Reg Butler, whose Woman Standing, 1951, was sold by the Museum of Modern Art in New York at Sotheby’s for a record £146,500, can be found on four stands. Goodman Fine Art, for example, is showing one of Butler’s suspended figure sculptures, St Catherine, 1959, priced at £34,000.
At Sotheby’s in June, a Jacob Epstein bust of Sir Winston Churchill sold for a record £182,500. At the fair, Keith Chapman has a rare bronze cast of his daughter, Kitty, 1947, just before her marriage to Lucian Freud. He also has the first (1907) and last (1949) Epstein’s ‘Baby’ heads, and has the original invoice for the first – it sold for £28 in 1916, today’s price is £15,000. Simon Hilton has a 1917 bust of the composer, Josef Holbrooke, and Boundary Gallery will bring the bronze, ‘Betty May’, 1919. The sitter’s autobiography, ‘Tiger Woman,’ published in 1929, has just been reprinted.
Lower down the price scale, things are happening for contemporary light artist, Liliane Lijn, whose ‘Liquid Reflections,’ 1966, sold for a record £20,000 at Sotheby’s. Examples of her work will be found at the fair with England & Co.
Among the record breaking painters will be John Armstrong who created one of the biggest surprises at auction when a small but arresting 1940 poster design in gouache sold for a ten times estimate record £74,500 at Sotheby’s. An artist whom dealers feel has long been undervalued, Armstrong is represented at the fair with paintings at Waterhouse & Dodd (The Family, priced at £16,000), and Keith Chapman (Dream of Venice, 1955).
Also still relatively unknown is the post-war abstract artist, Denis Bowen whose 6 foot high painting, Atomic Image 1, 1959, sold for a record £11,250 at Bonhams in May. Another 50s abstraction by Bowen, whose market could have a long way to go, is being shown by Rowntree Clark who say their tachiste composition by Bowen is better than those recently acquired by the Tate.
Falling into a similar category is Scottish painter, William Gear , who was associated with the European CoBrA group in the late 1940s, and whose large geometric abstract, ‘Gray Structure’ from 1956, sold for a record £31,250 at Bonhams in May. At the fair, Goodman Fine Art will bring two late 40s abstracted landscapes, Paisnel Gallery a 1947 ‘interiour’ and Waterhouse & Dodd also have an example.
Embroidery has gradually come to occupy a significant position in contemporary art practise over the years, a fact recognised by international museum exhibitions and by a forthcoming exhibition at Sotheby’s, ‘Stitched Up.’ At the fair, this medium will be represented by limited edition works by Tracey Emin (William Weston) and Grayson Perry (Dominic Guerrini).
One of the most popular artists at the fair is likely to be the neo-romantic, Keith Vaughan, celebrated at the Pallant House Gallery in 2013. Vaughan’s work is to appear on nine gallery stands at the fair. But look out also for the lesser known Norman Basil Town, an official War Artist who was a friend of Vaughan’s and a fellow conscientious objector. The Canon Gallery from Northants has secured a sketchbook of Town’s from the late 40s of illustrations to poetry such as Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Season in Hell’, and Virgil’s ‘Eclogues.’ Prices will range from £300 to £3,000.
Waterhouse & Dodd are previewing their major retrospective of Maurice Cockrill planned for October. Cockrill who died in 2013 was often called ‘a painter’s painter’ and disliked dealers! They will also feature Dorothy Mead who studied under Bomberg and was founder of The Borough Group in 1946.
First World War images include a rare drawing by Epstein (Keith Chapman), ‘Destroyed Canal, Ytres’, 1918 by Christopher Nevinson (Osborne Samuel), ‘Retreat from Ypres’ by another war artist Gerald Spencer Pryse.
Piano Nobile will be previewing their forthcoming show: Paul Nash Works on Paper 1910-1946 which includes rare First World War images.
Finally, Huxley-Parlour Gallery will be presenting classic photography that celebrates British exploration in the early 20th century. Included will be vintage prints by Frank Hurley of Ernest Shackleton’s fateful trip to Antarctic in the centenary of their departure and early National Geographic photographers.