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Sotheby's to offer landmark masterworks in its Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Bridget Riley’s Stretch of 1964, is one of the most important works by the artist to appear at auction. Estimated at £1-1.5 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- On 26th June, Sotheby’s London will offer a remarkable selection of works which articulate key moments in the careers of many giants of Contemporary Art. Alongside a strong selection of Post-War European Masters, the sale has a particularly strong showing of major British names. At its heart are two key paintings by Francis Bacon – one a work from his legendary first commercial show at the Hanover Gallery in 1949 – the other, an outstanding triptych portrait of his closest female friend, muse and lover, the artist Isabel Rawsthorne. Other highlights include David Hockney’s paean to his home country, Double East Yorkshire and Bridget Riley’s powerful op art masterpiece of 1964, Stretch. The cover lot of the auction is the most important collection of Andreas Gursky “Stock Exchange” photographs in private or public hands. Created over 20 years, these monumental and dynamic images of trading floors, distil the socio-economic topography of our age. Many fresh to the market and with distinguished exhibition histories, the sale comprises 69 works with a combined estimate in excess of £66 million.

Alex Branczik, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department, said: “Contemporary collectors in search of prize works, should find a great deal to excite them in our Evening Sale. It is very much an auction of historic “firsts”. We are offering the first work that Francis Bacon ever sold, from his first show at a commercial gallery, in which for the first time he depicts the human form. We have the first David Hockney landscape to appear at auction since the hugely successful 2012 Royal Academy show; a 1964 Bridget Riley shown in the first ever exhibition of “Op Art” in New York in 1965 and Andreas Gursky’s first Stock Exchange photograph of 1990, part of an unparalleled collection of his iconic series of trading floor studies.”

1949 was a seminal year for Francis Bacon, from which Head III, estimated at £5-7 million, was a seminal work. This was the year of Bacon’s first one man exhibition at the Hanover Gallery, in which the extraordinary and historically important group of six paintencrusted, starkly monochromatic Heads powerfully proclaimed his critical arrival. Significantly, Head III embodies the first irrefutable human likeness in Bacon’s professional career. Pre-empting the gapingmouthed shriek of Head IV, this painting is the first explicit occasion in which his obsessively quoted broken glasses or pince nez fully appear (which Bacon lifted from Eisenstein’s 1925 cinematic masterpiece Battleship Potemkin). The work was first owned by the notable Californian collector Wright S. Ludington (1900-1992), who bought it in advance of the Hanover Gallery show in November 1949 for £150. Since then, this key work has been exhibited in some of the most important museum shows of Bacon’s career and with its history, rich provenance and evocative subject, holds a place of utmost importance in Bacon scholarship. Other works from this seminal exhibition are held by the Arts Council, Tate, Ulster Museum, Met, Chicago MoCA and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

In 1949, the artist Isabel Rawsthorne, also held her first solo exhibition at the Hanover Gallery and it was in preparing for their respective shows that she and Francis Bacon met. One of the great muses of the Twentieth century, she occupies a unique position in Bacon’s art. Of all his female subjects and many friends, she was the woman to whom he felt closest and who inspired the greatest number of his small portrait canvases. Her feline grace and striking features made her an attractive subject for an artist and she was variously mistress and model to André Derain, Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti. Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne was painted in 1966, during the second great artistic peak in Bacon’s career, when he broke with the male-dominated paintings of the 1940s and 50s and began depicting members of his Soho clique. The triptych illustrates the seismic shift in Bacon’s work as he masterfully navigated the threshold of abstraction and figuration. Nearly 50 years after its creation, this important work is estimated to realise £10-15 million.

Offered at auction for the first time, David Hockney’s Double East Yorkshire - estimated at £2-3 million - is a key painting in the artist’s mature oeuvre. The monumental work was exhibited in the highly important survey of Hockney’s landscapes at the Royal Academy in 2012, as well as the Espace/Paysage show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris in 1999. Painted in California in 1998, it is one of the artist’s most evocative depictions of his home county – an epic homage to the landscape he discovered during his teens. During the late 1990s a poignant combination of a friend’s ill health and his mother’s advancing years drew him increasingly back to Yorkshire. He returned every three months to take her for long drives across the Wolds and make daily visits to his gravely-ill friend Jonathan Silver. These journeys through the gently undulating hills of the Wolds imprinted every contour of the landscape on Hockney’s memory. The luminescent colours which seem to emanate from the canvas are redolent of Hockney’s earlier Californian landscapes, and engender a uniquely personal evocation of his surroundings. Hockney’s Californian pool scene, A Small Sunbather of 1967, from the legendary collection of the late Stanley J. Seeger is also offered in the sale, with an estimate of £300,000-500,000.

Bridget Riley’s Stretch of 1964, is one of the most important works by the artist to appear at auction. Estimated at £1-1.5 million, the painting was included in the ground-breaking op art exhibition, The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965, which launched Riley’s international career.

The striking black and white palette is a defining hallmark of her earliest works: she did not introduce colour tones until 1967. Stretch is remarkable for its distinctive format. Projecting out of the wall with an almost sculptural force, its curved sides intensify the effect of strobing movement. The painting has been in the same private collection since it was acquired in 1967.

Making its auction debut, Pierre Soulages’ magisterial Peinture, 21 Novembre 1959 is estimated at £2-3 million. Painted during one of the most significant periods of his career, the work, which exemplifies the artist’s fascination with form over illusion, has a distinguished exhibition history, having featured in major international shows including at the Galerie de France (1960) and the Musée National d’Art Moderne (1967) in Paris. Soulage’s paintings of the 1950s are imbued with a growing luminosity and dominated by increasingly powerful sweeps of paint. He was strongly influenced by the rugged rock carvings and menhirs near his birthplace of Rodez in Southern France. The dramatic arcs of the brushstrokes in this work are suggestive of these primeval geological formations.

The sale features three important works by Lucio Fontana. Appearing at auction for the first time, Concetto Spaziale, le Chiese de Venezia of 1961, is expected to realise £4-6 million. An abstract masterpiece inspired by a birds-eye map of Venice and the golden vaulted ceiling of the basilica San Marco, the painting has been exhibited in that city at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Palazzo Grassi as well as touring Japan in the 1986 retrospective of the artist’s work. Concetto Spaziale Attese was executed in 1965, at the height of Fontana’s ground-breaking conceptual dialogue. Estimated at £3.3-4.5 million, the imposing scale of the work, which is unusually preserved within the original artist’s frame, confronts the viewer with a spectacular interplay between pure white tableau and the six vertical black slashes that pierce through the monochrome expanse. Concetto Spaziale, Teatrino, spanning nearly two meters in height and two metres across is among the largest and most elegant works from Fontana’s oeuvre. From the teatrini (little theatres) series, the work was executed during a period of intense production between 1964 and 1966. Estimated to realise £800,000-1.2 million, only one teatrino is larger and resides in the permanent collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

More than any artist of his generation, Andreas Gursky’s photographic eye identifies the subjects of our contemporary landscape which most acutely define the way we live today. His Stock Exchange series, ten images made over 20 years on three continents, chart the history of our modern age of globalisation. The sale will offer an unprecedented five exchanges – the most significant collection in private or public hands. The Tokyo Stock Exchange of 1990 (est. £500,000-700,000), the first of Gursky’s pantheon of trading floors, set the blueprint and structure for his future practice. It is presented alongside Hong Kong Stock Exchange of 1994, (£300,000-400,000), Chicago Board of Trade, 1997, (£700,000-900,000, left), Chicago Board of Trade III, 1999-2009 (£600,000-800,000) and Kuwait Stock Exchange II (£400,000-600,000). Visitors to Sotheby’s exhibition prior to the sale, will have the unique opportunity of seeing the largest group of works from the Stock Exchange series ever shown together.

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