Yesterday I attended a preview of an auction of Modern British art held by Christies.
All the big names were there – L.S Lowry, Stanley Spencer, Ben Nicholson, Walter Sickert, Graham Sutherland – though their representative work was not of their highest quality.
One of the factors in evaluating worth is whether the picture is a good example of the body of the work of the artist.
The exhibition also illustrated how painters move in and out of fashion.
Graham Sutherland (1903-1980) was renowned for his portraiture of Somerset Maugham (1950) and famously of Winston Churchill (1954), a war artist and surrealist, but has now moved out of fashion as has Carel Weight and John Minton.
There were many Nashes, but by John – not Paul. John had no formal education unlike his brother who studied under Henry Tonks at the Slade.
John Piper was there, many Mary Feddens, an Ivon Hitchens, war artist JD Fergusson. He and Arthur Nevinson were hampered by the censor as you could not paint a dead British soldier.
There was a Christopher Wood, two Patrick Herons ,very important in the St Ives school.
However, none of the paintings had a wow factor for me.
I was reminded of Harold Gilman’s observation on British Art: “Little art for little patrons”.
Picasso called British art ‘too pretty’ but this may have been a reaction to Alfred Munnings’ assault on on modern art well-oiled after a Royal Academy dinner.
I was impressed by a William Orpen portrait.
He was the society turn of the century portrait painter commanding huge fees and Ken Howard now owns his studio near the Boltons in Kensington.
I guess most present were collectors and dealers. It’s an interesting way for someone like me to see a range of artists, a glass of wine in hand and without the crush and commercialisation of the blockbuster exhibition.
However, as I made my way home, I couldn’t think of one painting I had seen that I would want to hang on my wall.