In the club
As a members’ club makes major changes, its traditional paintings and cartoons enchant the saleroom
Two years ago, the current owners of a traditional private members’ club in Mayfair decided to ‘gently update its interiors’ and, reportedly less gently, its membership, in order to make it ‘the most exclusive club in London’. According to one of the partners: ‘It’s going to be a global A-list, from a variety of backgrounds, old world and New world. You can’t just have a name or money to get in; the main qualification is, you have to be interesting.’
Naturally, they and their designer considered that ‘interesting’ people would not be interested in traditional paintings or a collection of cartoons by such masters of the art as Beerbohm and Pont. The result was a very satisfactory sale for Harry MooreGwyn of the 25 Blythe Road auction co-operative on behalf of what the catalogue identified only as ‘a Private London Club’.
Two of the Ponts—his real name was Graham Laidler (1908–40) —were among my favourites of all his works for Punch. one, from ‘The British Character’ series, was the 8in by 9in ink drawing Passion for not forgetting the moderately great (Fig 2) in which the statues include ‘Joseph Parker Esq Inventor of the Praddlescope’ (May 12, 1937)—it sold for £3,720.
The classic of clubland sangfroid I am perfectly aware of that my man (September 11, 1940) as a bomb plunges through
the library, reached £7,920. The most expensive Max Beerbohm at £7,498 was a satire on the Kaiser and his son Little Willie experiencing the Dawning of a horrid doubt as to Divine Right.
Of the paintings, the most expensive was a wildfowling scene by the sought-after Russian Ivan Pokhitonov (1850–1923), which reached £115,200. Then, at £19,440, there was a portrait of great medical interest. This was a 30in by 24in half-length of the surgeon Richard Guy (Fig 1), which was attributed to Robert Edge Pine (1730–88). As The
Gentleman’s Magazine noted some years afterwards: ‘Mr Richard Guy (famous for his cure of cancers) died on Sunday, 27th September, 1767 of a sudden stroke of the gout in his breast. He was well in the morning, and was dead in the evening.’ There was irony in that his speciality was breast cancers.
Although a surgeon, rather than the knife, he advocated treatment with a series of medicines to attack tumours and, in 1762, he published a book on the subject, which he holds in the portrait. He does not seem to have been related to Thomas Guy of the Hospital.
Ninety-two of the 100 lots were sold and, on the same day, April 5, Sotheby’s had 90% success with its ‘Made in Britain’ auction. Essentially, the label means a sale of Modern British paintings, sculptures and works on paper accompanied by a number of contemporary studio ceramics and one or two appropriate pieces of furniture. The £187,500 top lot is rather difficult to categorise, even though it is a very famous image. Chris Levine’s Lightness of Being (Fig 5), 2004 is not just a photograph, nor perhaps strictly a work on paper—it is a 501 ⁄4in by 401 ⁄4in ‘unique pigment print, flushmounted to aluminium’.
As Mr Levine said in an interview: ‘Whilst my photographic work has become quite well known, I don’t consider myself a photographer—i’m an artist who uses photography when relevant to my visual objectives. The work I do with light, the more experiential side of things, is more difficult to define, so the label of photographer by default seems so often the way.’
He was commissioned to produce an official portrait of The Queen to mark the 800 years of Jersey’s allegiance to the Crown after the loss of the mainland Duchy of Normandy in 1204. The image itself, in which the sitter is resting her eyes and thus appears to be meditating, came about by chance, between what were intended to be the principal shots of the session. It turned out to be all and more that Mr Levine had hoped: ‘As with all my portraits, it’s about achieving stillness and the truth that is revealed when there is this state of serenity.’
Grosvenor School linocuts continued to be popular, notably a fine impression of Speedway
(Fig 3) by Sybil Andrews (1898–
1992). The 123 ⁄4in by 91 ⁄4in (plate measurement) trial proof sold for £60,000 against an upper estimate of £45,000. Another print that is a perennial favourite is C. R. W. Nevinson’s 1916 drypoint Returning to the
Trenches, but a ‘clear, crisp impression’ (Fig 6), measuring 6in by 77⁄8in, made a low-estimate £50,000.
Clear and crisp could also describe Patrick Hughes’s 3D paintings, such as the 1996 A Real
Illusion (Fig 7), which made £40,000. The 23¾in by 42½in by 11¾in shaped board of library shelves had the unsettling effect of all Mr Hughes’s work.
Among the ceramics were 10 lots by Lucie Rie, including an early lilac-glazed earthenware bowl that reached an unexpected £25,000, but there were also examples by less generally known potters. There were two bowls by Emmanuel Cooper (1938– 2012), who was at least as well regarded for his writing as for his pots. A 16in-diameter blue bowl with a ‘thick volcanic’ glaze sold for £4,375 (Fig 4). Next week Dealers’ show
Fig 1: Half-length portrait of the surgeon Richard Guy, attributed to Robert Edge Pine. £19,440
Fig 2 left: Pont’s Passion for not forgetting… cartoon for Punch. £3,720. Fig 3 above: Trial proof of Sybil Andrews’s
Fig 6 top: Nevinson’s Returning to the Trenches. £50,000. Fig 7 above: A Real Illusion. £40,000
Fig 5: Chis Levine’s celebrated 2004 portrait of The Queen Lightness of Being. £187,500
Fig 4: Blue bowl by Emmanuel Cooper. £4,375