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Sotheby's Auction of the Collection of Lord Attenborough Achieves $7,699,470
A man looks at a drypoint by Christopher Nevison entitled "Nerves of the Army" dated 1918, which is part of the collection of British actor Lord Attenborough. AP Photo/Alastair Grant.

LONDON.- An overflowing saleroom today witnessed the landmark sale of the Attenborough Collection, a selection of 50 works which offered a unique snapshot of British art during the mid-20th Century, charting the life and career of one of Britain’s most prolific actors, directors and producers. With multiple bidders competing in extended bidding battles for every single one of the lots offered, the final sale total reached £4,596,150 ($7,699,470), soaring above the pre-sale high estimate (est. £1,885,000-2,866,500). The auction was 100% sold by lot and value, and 90% of lots brought prices above their pre-sale high estimate. The top selling lot of the auction was L.S. Lowry’s "Old Houses" which raised £881,250 ($1,476,270) (est: £300,000- 500,000). This superb evocation of working-class life by an artist who remained a close friend of Lord Attenborough for many years attracted bids from an international clutch of collectors who drove the price high above estimate. The work finally sold to an anonymous telephone bidder.

Commenting on today’s sale, Lord and Lady Attenborough said: “ We are absolutely thrilled that the sale did so very well, most especially because the surprisingly heated bidding was an affirmation of sorts of our long-held belief in - and admiration for - the artists represented. But importantly, since it was always our intention that we would only be temporary custodians of the collection, the enthusiasm for our collection is also a reassuring indication of the great appreciation that will continue to be shown for these artists and their works. The lead up to the sale proved to be a rather special period of time in which many wonderful memories resurfaced about how each of the pieces offered came to be in our collection, and of the associations each one has had for us over the years. We now wish the new owners as much enjoyment whilst they are caretakers of these tremendous works as we experienced ourselves.”

Henry Wyndham, Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and Auctioneer for the sale, said: “The success of today’s sale was a testament to the exceptional eye and taste of Lord and Lady Attenborough. It has been an absolute privilege to handle such a wonderful collection and to have worked with a couple who have long inspired an international audience with their artistic output, and have in the course of the sale of this collection revealed their remarkable ability to identify the key artists of the mid-20th century.”

James Rawlin, Senior Director at Sotheby’s and specialist in charge of the sale, said: “It is extremely rare to come across a collection that represents in such breadth and quality the most important artists of an era. Collectors battled it out in the saleroom for a piece of this very personal collection, driving prices higher and higher, shattering records in the process, and filling the room with the kind of electricity an auctioneer dreams of – in fact the atmosphere was comparable to the tension in a scene from one of Attenborough’s best films! It’s been said before, but what the market wants right now is quality, and the Attenborough collection had this in abundance.”

Comprising a representative selection of mid-20th Century British Paintings, the sale featured works by leading artists such as L.S. Lowry, Edward Burra, Ivon Hitchens, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland and Christopher Wood, in addition to a rare and desirable group of Christopher Nevinson prints of World War I.

Following the highest price of the sale achieved by L.S. Lowry’s "Old Houses", Graham Sutherland’s "Thorn Head" of 1947 achieved a high of £481,250 ($806,190), establishing a new auction record for the artist and exceeding pre-sale expectations of £150,000-250,000 by a very wide margin. The finest work by the artist to have appeared on the market in the last 20 years, this powerful, abstract image attracted a plethora of bids and finally sold to a bidder in the room.

Christopher Wood was represented in the sale by two works: "Flowers on a Chair with Pipe and Paper", and "Card Players". Both works soared above estimate: the former selling for £277,250 (est: £100,000-150,000), and the latter realising £121,250, some three times the pre-sale estimate of £30,000-50,000. "Card Players" had behind it a poignant story: in the late 1970s Lord Attenborough was forced to sell the work in order to help finance the filming of Gandhi. Then, in 1985 when times were better, he bought the work back – bringing it back to the home it had left some 15 years earlier.

The collection featured an extremely fine selection of works by Christopher Nevinson - an artist widely remembered for his powerful evocations of life in wartime. While his oil painting Battlefields of Britain, an iconic image capturing a key moment in British history, sold for £217,250 (est: £100,000-150,000) established a new record for the artist at auction, the significant group of prints by the same artist - 12 in total, each depicting life on the frontline during World War I - realized a combined total of £380,875 (est: £160,000-233,500). Among them was "French Troops Resting", a drypoint etching of 1916, which sold for £79,250 – a record price for any Nevinson print ever sold at auction.

LOT 28

Sold for £217,250
Previous record £192,500

LOT 30
"THORN HEAD", 1947
Sold for £481,250
Previous record: £325,250

LOT 41
Sold for £313,250
Previous record: £174,000

LOT 17

Sold for £79,250
Previous record: £62,400

Sotheby's | Sale of the Attenborough Collection | Lord and Lady Attenborough | Henry Wyndham |

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