Battle of the Commonwealth Artists

Bonham’s New Bond Street sale rooms in London are offering a timely catalogue titled “The Grosvenor School and Avant-Garde British Printmaking” on 17 April. It is timely due to some spectacular results achieved in the last few years at auction houses around the Commonwealth world – particularly for linocuts by Canadian Sybil Andrews, Briton Cyril Power and Australian Ethel Spowers. Looks like the three main Commonwealth countries are pitting their artists squarely against each other in this sale comprising a tidy 87 lots.

Christie’s sold ‘Bringing in the Boat’, 1933 by Sybil Andrews last December in London for a stand-out £ 24,000 hammer price. Heffel Fine Art in Vancouver generally have had the lion’s share of sales of Andrews’ work. However a fair number have turned up in Australia according to AASD, with a AU$ 15,000 h.p. being the highest price for ‘Football’, achieved by Christies in November 2003.

The auction record for a work by Sybil Andrews goes to Heffel Fine Art for ‘Flower Girls’, 1934, selling for CAD $ 95,000 h.p., followed closely by ‘Rush Hour’, selling for CAD $ 90,000 in the same sale in May 2008. ‘Rush Hour’, although from a different edition number, is the cover lot for this upcoming Bonhams auction. Here it’s called ‘Speedway’, lot 46, estimated at £50,000- £70,000.

Ethel Spowers of course is one of our most outstanding Australian printmakers; ‘Wet Afternoon’ is her most sought after image which has appeared five times in the last five years, culminating in record prices by Christie’s London, £42,000 h.p. in April 2011, and Deutscher + Hackett at AU$ 65,000 h.p. in November 2011. ‘The Gust of Wind’, 1931, last sold through Christie’s Australia for AU$ 14,000 h.p. in 1999. At Bonhams, you will have to wait for the last lot number 87 to bid on this gem of a linocut, when we should see healthy capital growth in this image; it is offered with an estimate of £ 15,000 – £ 20,000.

Meanwhile, it was Australian auctioneer Menzies who achieved a spectacular result for Briton Cyril Power’s ‘The Eight’ from 1930 in March 2008, selling for a AU$ 44,000 h.p. This result however was well and truly trounced by Bonhams in December 2011, when sold for a massive £ 48,000 h.p. We see Power’s best images almost double in value: Sotheby’s sold ‘The Tube Staircase’, 1929, in London in July 2009 for £ 11,000; in June 2010 it fetched £ 18,000. The brilliant ‘Merry Go Round’, c. 1929, sold for £5,500 h.p. at Sotheby’s in London in March 2006, and again in September 2011, however this time for a massive £ 26,000 h.p.

So – who will win the Commonwealth Battle of the linocut artists? The gloves are off at Bonham’s on 17 April, and interest and competition spanning the globe from Canada to Britain and to Australia will no doubt be fierce.

Article originally published in the Australian Art Sales Digest

Written by

Brigitte Banziger

Hello, my name is Brigitte Banziger and I am an art consultant and manager at Banziger Hulme Fine Art Consultants, Australia's art valuation and art advice experts. We offer comprehensive art valuation and art brokerage services (selling and buying art on behalf of clients). Our art services cover everything from valuations, art care and restoration, to general advice such as helping define the goals for your art purchase and work out the best strategy on how to achieve those goals, including where, how and and when to buy.

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