Modigliani drawing leads Lyon & Turnbull’s inaugural Avant Garde sale, April 27

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April 28 ‘Modern Made’ session highlighted by desk formerly owned by famed spy novelist John Le Carre

LONDON – A drawing by Amedeo Modigliani, on the market for the first time in 91 years, is among the highlights of the inaugural Avant Garde – Art from 1890 to Now sale at Lyon & Turnbull. The carefully curated sale at the Mall Galleries, London on April 27 features works from some of the most progressive art movements of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The delicate pencil drawing of a girl with a mask-like face with large almond eyes has all the hallmarks of by Modigliani’s style and a blue-chip provenance. Measuring 43cm x 26.5cm, it was originally in the collection of the Modern British painter Christopher ‘Kit’ Wood, who first visited Paris in 1920, just a few months after Modigliani had died. Wood later sold the drawing to his London dealer, Alex. Reid and Lefevre Gallery – at the time the place to go for contemporary European art, and who had held an exhibition of Modigliani paintings in March 1929. In 1932 the dealer sold this drawing to a private collector: it has remained in the same family ever since. The estimate sis £40,000-£60,000.

One of the major ‘discoveries’ in the sale is a prime period work by John Tunnard (1900-1971). The meticulously painted gouache on paper – Composition, 1947 – was acquired by the vendor’s father directly from the artist in the 1960s and has not been seen in public since. 

Painted just after the Second World War, this other worldly landscape of futuristic antennae and ancient megaliths and henges – and the ‘dry tree’ motif Tunnard used as a symbol of destruction and death – is one of just 13 known gouaches from 1947. Of a similar style and quality to others held in American museum collections, it is expected to generate plenty of interest at its guide of £30,000-£50,000.

Also, on the market for the first time since it was gifted by the artist to a relative of the present owner, is a wood, mirror and perspex relief on board by Gillian Wise (1936-2020), the youngest member of the Constructionist group led in the UK by Victor Pasmore. It is one of two versions of this work, the other held in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, it has an estimate of £8,000-£12,000.

Madchen Mit Katze (Girl with Cat) by the Anglo-Polish artist Jankel Adler (1895-1949) also comes with an exceptional provenance. This powerful work, dating from 1942, was painted the year after Adler, an Orthodox Jew whose work had been declared “degenerate” by the Nazis, had found refuge in Britain. A major example of continental Modernism painted in Britain, it was selected for reproduction in Stanley William Hayter’s 1948 monograph on the artist, by which time it had been acquired by the British millionaire art collector Peter Watson. An important patron of the arts at the time when many artists struggled to make ends meet: Watson was a co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1946.

The post-Cubist painting, showing a contemplative seated woman and her cat, has an estimate of £50,000-£80,000.

Among the earliest pictures in the sale, and one that presages the arrival of the Bloomsbury Group, is The Scottish Lady by Henry Lamb (1883-1960). Fresh from a visit to Paris with Augustus John, he painted the glamorous Mrs Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Jameson, wife of the solicitor John ‘Harry’ Jameson, in November 1908, while staying with them in Edinburgh’s New Town. 

His sitter was pregnant at the time but in the finished picture she appears ‘wasp-waisted’ and typically Edwardian. One of the artist’s earliest surviving oils, it is guided at £20,000-£30,000.

Estimated at £30,000-£50,000 is an exceptional Jazz Age picture by Hungarian artist Gyula Batthyány (1887-1959). At the Races, painted circa 1930, depicts a ‘spiral’ of spectators, all dressed to impress and watching not only the horses but each other. They recall characters from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, at once beautiful and well-heeled, yet also grotesque and troubled. Batthyány, an aristocrat and socialite, was undoubtedly a product of the Establishment, but moving in bohemian circles he was not immune from the mood of post-war disillusionment and the effects of the Great Depression.

Among the most politically charged works in the sale are those made by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (b.1957) and the Iranian-American artist YZ Kami (b.1956). Ai, the subject of a current exhibition at Design Museum, is famously outspoken in his opposition to the totalitarian regime in China. The electroplated resin cast of his hand displaying the middle figure from the 2017 edition of 1000 has a guide of £3,000-£5,000.

Kami’s pigment print on paper Tara, 2015, is numbered 4 from an edition of 45. The haunting image of a blurred face was consigned for sale exactly at the moment the recent female protests in Iran began. Bought by the owner from the Blain/Southern, it has an estimate of £800-£1,200.

Desk and document chest designed by Chinese architect Chi Wing Lo (b.1954-) for Italian firm Giorgetti, formerly owned by the great spy novelist John Le Carre. Estimate £6,000-£8,000
Desk and document chest designed by Chinese architect Chi Wing Lo (b.1954-) for Italian firm Giorgetti, formerly owned by the great spy novelist John Le Carre. Estimate £6,000-£8,000

Modern Made – April 28 Session

The Avant Garde sale will be followed up on April 28 with Modern Made, an auction of Modern & Post War Art, Design and Contemporary Ceramics & Crafts. Highlighting the session is Lot 347, consisting of a modernist maple and brushed steel desk and document chest designed by Chinese architect Chi Wing Lo (b.1954-) for the Italian firm Giorgetti. The duo represents a “thrilling” piece of literary history. They were acquired by acclaimed spy novelist John Le Carré (né David Cornwell) from his friend of almost 50 years, Gerald Moran, and were used in his workspace in London as he penned all of his final novels from the end of 2009 until he died in 2020.

On the desk, he wrote A Delicate Truth (2013), A Legacy of Spies (2017, the companion volume to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold), Agent Running In The Field (2019), Silverview (published posthumously in 2021) and his memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel (2016). Within the drawers of the chest, Le Carré safely stored his manuscripts during the editing process.

Writing since the 1960s, Le Carré is famous as the creator of George Smiley and the author of classic Cold War thrillers such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Le Carré has also worked on his final and still-unpublished project, The George Smiley Years, on the desk. The lost is estimated at £6000-£8000.

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