London Eye: May 2013
LONDON – It would be reasonable to assume that the last thing you would need when building an online auction room is a bricklayer’s trowel. After all, bricks and mortar are so last year, are they not? But if the trowel is of the George IV silver-gilt variety and for sale with an estimated value of around £5,000-7,000 ($7,500-10,500), then it might be just the ticket to get your new online business off the ground, so to speak.
It is entirely appropriate, then, that the ceremonial trowel coming under the hammer of the new, London-based, exclusively online auction business — The Auction Room (dot com) — on June 6 is engraved with the arms of the City of London. The new auction venture is the brainchild of former Sotheby’s specialists George Bailey and Lucinda Blythe who are hoping to succeed where others have failed. They may have timed it just right.
The London art research firm Art Tactic recently conducted a report into the use of technology in the art market in association with Hiscox insurers. It revealed a significant surge in the take-up of e-commerce platforms by private collectors in recent years, which bodes well for start-ups like The Auction Room. Bailey told Auction Central News that even if this week’s inaugural sales get off to an uncertain start, the venture will grow in time.
“If you look at the big contemporary art sales in New York recently, it’s clear that the middle price bracket is being left behind and as sale commissions continue to rise there are opportunities for new business initiatives to enter the digital space.” He referred to a recent live auction at Sotheby’s New Bond Street premises where 120 seats were provided for bidders but only nine people turned up.
For now, The Auction Room will be concentrating on smaller, more portable objects — silver, jewelry and watches — which will be on view at Brown’s Hotel in Albemarle Street prior to each sale. Other categories will come on stream in the fullness of time. The inaugural sale of fine jewelry takes place on June 4 and will include a fine platinum and diamond spray brooch estimated at £20,000-25,000 ($30,200-37,800),while the watch auction on June 5 will feature a ladies Harry Winston wristwatch estimated at £12,000-14,000 ($18,150-21,160). It was originally given by Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, to a well-respected employee. The George IV trowel, used by the Lord Mayor of London in 1828 to open the building of London Bridge, will be offered on June 6.
Whether Bailey and Blythe’s interactive virtual saleroom will “transform the traditional auction experience” as they anticipate, remains to be seen, but nothing ventured nothing gained.
The Auction Room is not the only inaugural art event taking place over the coming weeks. June is always a busy time in London as overseas visitors arrive, brollies and guide-books in hand, to explore the many art fairs and other cultural attractions.
One of the most significant new events this year is London Art Week, a collaboration between dealers across the three main traditional categories — paintings, drawings and sculpture. These “tentless” events are in part a response to the proliferation of marquee blockbusters such as Art Antiques London and Masterpiece (both June) and Frieze (October). London Art Week aims to foreground the intimacy and ambience of the “bricks and mortar” gallery experience in contrast to the “mall” art fair culture currently sweeping the globe. It is the first time that Master Paintings Week, Master Drawings Week and Sculpture Week have come together under one umbrella. Judging from the recent summer weather here in London, umbrellas will certainly be needed.
Notable objects on view in London Art Week include a late Hellenistic marble torso of an athlete (circa second-first century B.C.) inspired by Polykleitos, one of the most influential Greek sculptors of the High Classical Period, which will be with Rupert Wace Fine Art,while a Thomas Gainsborough drawing, Wooded Landscape with a Country Cart and Faggot Gatherers, dating from the 1760s, will be on view with Old Master Drawings dealer Stephen Ongpin. Lowell Libson Ltd. is exhibiting a collection of 20 oil studies and 40 drawings by James Ward R.A. (1769–1859) that will throw light on every aspect of his career and working methods.
It would not be an English summer without a few open air sculpture exhibitions. Two of the most significant shows opening in June are the University of Leicester’s annual Open Air Sculpture Show at the Harold Martin Botanical Gardens in Leicester, which runs from late June until October, and “Fresh Air,” the biennial outdoor sculpture show at The Old Rectory, Quenington, Cirencester, from June 16 to July 7. The organizers of the Quenington event say its purpose is “to wash the dust from the soul of everyday life” and to provide the opportunity to celebrate the vitality and diversity of outdoor sculpture. Regular exhibitors include the renowned British sculptor Terence Coventry who will be showing one of his popular Couple sculptures,while among the more conceptual works on display is A Bench by Hannah Davies, priced at £1,350 ($2,040).
Her Majesty the Queen has sat for a fair number of artists during her long reign, the most memorable of which is perhaps the work by Lucian Freud. The latest portraitist to venture into what must be a nerve-wracking hot seat behind the easel is British painter Nicky Philipps.Commissioned by the Royal Mail, Philipps’ portrait of Her Majesty will be used for a special stamp issue to mark the 60th anniversary of The Queen’s coronation. Royal Mail will be gifting the portrait to the Royal Collection but before that happens it will be on view to the public during the artist’s solo exhibition at Fine Art Commissions in Duke Street, St. James’s from June 5-28.
Philipps’ portrait will be in noble company in St. James’s at the end of June. Wander just a hundred yards up Duke Street into Jermyn Street you will find the Weiss Gallery, where from June 28 until July 5 there is a chance to see a magnificent full-length portrait of Mary, Lady Vere, by the Jacobean artist William Larkin.Vere was a member of one of 17th-century England’s most noble Puritan families. It is an extraordinary image, Lady Vere’s appropriately black gown contrasting with the crisply painted folds of a crimson curtained backdrop. The painting is one of the highlights of a fine exhibition of Old Master paintings at the Weiss Gallery during London Art Week mentioned above. It will be well worth making a detour to see.