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Vettriano and other Scottish figurative painters flex saleroom muscles
The Stephen Conroy (b.1964) oil on board Figure Study - 2000, signed and dated verso, brought £18,750.

EDINBURGH.- Several auction records were set for works by some of Scotland’s best-known 20th and 21st century painters at international auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull’s recent Contemporary & Post-War Art sale held live online on January 27. The auction totalled £630,000 against a top estimate of £510,000, with at least three auction records set. Some 1167 international bidders competed of which 1076 were online leading to a selling rate of 86%.

Leading the pack at a cool £100,000 was Fish Teas by Jack Vettriano (b.1951). Measuring 60 x 50cm, it depicts a smartly dressed man lounging against a railing on a promenade smoking a cigarette, while a woman in a 1950s style dress looks into the distance on a seafront. A saltire flag flies in the background and the words 'Fish Teas' can be seen painted on a wooden shack. Specialist Charlotte Riordan, Head of Contemporary Art, described it as "one of the nicest examples we've seen of Vettriano's work and from a good stage in his career. It received a huge amount of interest prior to the sale, and the steep level of competition could be a sign that the artist's market is potentially climbing back up to the heady prices he commanded ten years ago.”

Matching the existing auction record set by the house of £20,000 was an important work by John Byrne (b.1940) - the self portrait Ceci N’est Pas Un Auto-Portrait. This 78 x 72cm oil and mixed media work of 2003 was featured on the front cover of the artist's monograph 'John Byrne: Art and Life', by Robert Hewson (2011). The title is clear allusion to the famous work 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' by the Surrealist René Magritte, to whom this work is an homage. In 1967 when Byrne was in his late twenties, a struggling artist working as a carpet designer in a factory, he penned a letter to his hero, addressing it simply 'Margritte, Brussels' and dispatching it, probably with little hope, in the post. Extraordinarily, the letter found its way to Magritte, who touchingly took the time to write a supportive response and message of solidarity. “Byrne’s market continues to go from strength to strength” commented Charlotte Riordan.

The Stephen Conroy (b.1964) oil on board Figure Study - 2000, signed and dated verso, brought £18,750 while Snakes & Ladders: Film sequence with Liz Lochhead by Alasdair Gray (1934-2019) achieved £16,250.

The work by Gray, dated 1972, is the largest and most important work by Gray to appear on the secondary market to date and set a new auction record for the artist. One of a series of nine works created to illustrate Lochhead's poetry, the poem to this work pertains reads: "We played this childish game. You need sheer freakish luck to win. Snakes and ladders is the name. Home and dry is everybody's aim.”

Among the most competed lots of the day was an oil by Glasgow School artist Ian Fleming (1906-90). Sea Wall, Arbroath dated 1950 was painted while Fleming was warden of the Patrick Allan-Fraser College of Art at Hospitalfield, Angus with Arbroath nearby his artistic inspiration. Against a guide of £800-1200, the work reached a new auction record for the artist at £9375.

The performance of artists from the Post War period was also solid, with fine mid career oil by Sir Terry Frost (1915-2003) selling close to double its lower estimate. The pared back forms of Untitled 1969, redolent of the work of Barbara Hepworth, for whom he had worked as a studio assistant, found many admirers before selling at £21,250.

Charlotte Riordan summed up the sale thus. "In these uncertain times, with a new long-term lockdown announced in the build up to the sale, we’re delighted to see that the current trend for buoyancy within the art market seems to be continuing. There was a strong performance within the sale all around.”

The next dedicated Contemporary & Post-War Art auction will be on April 07 2021 – entries invited until February 28.

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Rebecca Ferguson

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