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20/21 British Art Fair

20/21 British Art Fair

Art Fair
  It's been a record breaking year for Modern British art at the salerooms with Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams selling over £90 million in their specialised Modern British art sales in the last 12 months. Christie's sales this year so far have increased by an extraordinary 257% over last year, overtaking sales for Russian, American and Latin American art, while Sotheby's has increased by even more. This increased activity applies both to the top end of the market, where Sotheby's took £41.4 million for the Evill/Frost collection, and at the lower end, where Christie's South Kensington broke the £1 million barrier for a minor Modern British sale for the first time, not just once but twice. The selling rates of all these auctions were also very high across the board, with 70% or 80% of lots being the norm.

Figurative painting has been the strongest performer, led by Francis Bacon, LS Lowry, Stanley Spencer and Lucian Freud (drawings) in the £1 million plus category. In the six figure category, records have tumbled for paintings by Graham Sutherland, Ceri Richards, William Roberts, Patrick Heron (for a pre-abstract canvas), Samuel J Peploe, and Peter Blake, and for watercolours by Edward Burra. Examples by most of these artists will be at the fair.

According to the Art Market Research Index, which measures average prices for artists at auction, many artists who will be well represented at the fair have seen their middle market averages rise significantly since January 2008. These include Edward Burra (+191%), William Roberts (+115%), JD Fergusson (+87%), Christopher Wood (+74.7%), Roger Hilton (+65%), Keith Vaughan (+59%), Frank Auerbach (+55%), Graham Sutherland (+48%), and Ivon Hitchens (+ 45.6%).

Modern British sculptors included in the AMR's middle market average price Index since January 2008 are Henry Moore (+120%), Barbara Hepworth (+52%), Elisabeth Frink (+48%) and Jacob Epstein (+45%) - all artists represented at the fair.

The statistics therefore represent a market underpinned by widespread confidence and the ever growing appeal of good quality, 20th century Modern British art which is the backbone of the 20/21 British Art Fair.

From surrealists, muralists and constructivists to outsiders and so-called 'idiosyncratic' artists, the span of the fair will be truly remarkable and the interplays between museum feted artists, long hidden treasures, resurrected reputations and the market as lively as ever.

With an exhibition devoted to his work currently at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, the Scottish colourist J.D.Fergusson is in the limelight, and Ewan Mundy boasts a colourful watercolour of a woman in an orchard from 1910, 'At the Gate, Royan' (£25,000), while Duncan Miller shows his slightly earlier oil portrait of the artist, Anne Estelle Rice, entitled 'The Green Bird', which is a smaller version of a painting in the Glasgow Art Gallery.

From the late 1920's comes a topical reflection on social unrest and the class struggle by the muralist, Archibald Ziegler. Painted at a time of high unemployment and impending recession, Allegory of Social Strife is priced at £10,000 (Liss Fine Art).

Leon Underwood, a former tutor of Henry Moore and sometimes referred to as 'the precursor of modern sculpture in Britain', is very much flavour of the moment. Having been previously overlooked, he was unexpectedly included in the Royal Academy's Modern British Sculpture exhibition, and then rocketed to a new price record (£91,250) at Sotheby's record breaking Evill/Frost collection sale. Redfern Gallery, which handles the artist's estate, is displaying a curvaceous female nude terracotta, 'The June of Youth', 1933.

Jacob Epstein was also represented at both events, and the earlier of several bronzes at the fair is a portrait bust of Betty May, the bohemian model whom Epstein met at the Café de Paris and was known as the Tiger Woman (Boundary Gallery). Cast in 1919, it is in early example of Epstein's use of the rugged, as opposed to smooth, look of his bronzes that was to become a hallmark of his style. Whilst Keith Chapman is showing George Bernard Shaw [full bust], 1934, bronze, ed.6, signed [the full bust is very rare, most of the 6 are in museums - the head-only version is much more common as Lady Epstein cast numerous posthumously in the 1960s, but these were unsigned].

Works by nearly all the stars of the Evil/Frost sale are here. Apart from Epstein and Underwood, there are works by Edward Burra (Crane Kalman), Stanley Spencer (drawings at James Hyman), William Roberts (Piano Nobile), Gwen John (Martin Tinney), and Ceri Richards (Richard Green).

The neo-romantics, Keith Vaughan and Graham Sutherland are particularly well represented. Six galleries are showing works by Sutherland, for whom a record £713,250 was set this year, and no less than eight galleries are showing works by Vaughan, including Austin Desmond which has selected a 1948 gouache of semi abstracted standing figures for its catalogue entry.

There is always a strong whiff of St Ives at the fair, and this year is no exception. A classically primitive view of steam and sail boats entering harbour by the retired fisherman, Alfred Wallis, who was discovered in the late 1920's by Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, is featured by the Belgrave Gallery, while a view of the harbour by Wood, painted at that time in 1928, is one of several paintings that have long been in private collections, on the stand of Richard Green. This painting was bought by Admiral Charles Lamb, a First Sea Lord, in 1935, and remained in his family's collection until last year.

More abstract paintings by artists associated with St Ives in the post war years - Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron - bear, as can be seen, a close relationship to the dynamic developments of contemporary painting that were taking place in America.
Perhaps the best represented this year is Roger Hilton, the subject of several recent publications and exhibitions, whose late works in gouache (example at Adam Gallery) were largely made in bed when he was battling ill health and yet are both humorous and deceptively childlike in manner.

British 'pop' art is still an unexploited area of the art market, and the fair has unearthed some treasures. A collage of he-men, glamour girls and flash cars made from American magazines in 1947 by Eduardo Paolozzi at Jonathan Clark is testament to the claims for the late artist that he was truly the originator of 'pop' art.
Similarly, Jann Haworth's 'Lindner Doll', 1964, at Whitford Fine Art reminds us that the American born artist and first wife of Peter Blake with whom she designed the famous Sergeant Pepper album cover, was one of the originators of soft sculptures in the pop art era.

Contemporary names to conjure with at the fair include Barry Flanagan (at Richard Saltoun), whose early works are to be the subject of Tate Britain exhibition, David Mach (at Jill George), who has a major exhibition currently at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh, Grayson Perry (England & Co), Steven Gontarski (Gimpel Fils) , and Phyllida Barlow (Saltoun).

The range is hardly less impressive amongst the 10 print dealers at the fair and provide a selection from the traditional, to the modern and contemporary (Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley) that could suit every taste and pocket.

This year the Fair is proudly sponsored by EFG Private Bank.

VENUE: ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU
DATES: 14 - 18 SEPTEMBER 2011
TIMES: Wed: 3-9pm; Thurs: 11am-8pm; Fri/Sat: 11am-7pm; Sun: 11am-6pm
ADMISSION: £9 (concessions £6)
CONTACT: GAY HUTSON. Tel: +44 (0)20 8742 1611
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