An intimate family portrait by Lucian Freud painted in 1992, a pivotal example of British Aestheticism from 1864 by Frederic, Lord Leighton, which will be auctioned for the first time in 100 years, and an exquisite 1778 portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds on the market for the very first time — these are among the great works of British art to be offered in a sale alongside an exhibition that will launch Christie’s 250th anniversary in London this June.
Building on the success of Christie’s pioneering series of curated Evening Sales, including Looking Forward to the Past and The Artist’s Muse in 2015, Defining British Art: The Evening Sale (30 June) and Defining British Art: A Loan Exhibition (17 June to 15 July) will celebrate the artistic legacy of four centuries of British artists.
These Evening Sale highlights, a trio of exceptional figurative paintings which come from major private collections and illustrate the evolution of British portraiture over three centuries, are among the works that will tour to Christie's New York (6-12 May) and Christie’s Hong Kong (26-30 May).
Ever since 1766, when James Christie first opened his doors for business in St James’s, London, where the headquarters remains today, Christie’s has championed British artists, with both Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough among the regular visitors to Christie’s salerooms.
The greatest masterpieces are those that define the artist — paintings and sculptures that reflect the quintessential nature of his or her legacy. Christie’s Loan Exhibition and Evening Sale will present works which exemplify this.
‘A celebration of Britain’s artistic achievements, the Defining British Art Loan Exhibition and Evening Sale will break new ground for Christie’s,’ says Orlando Rock, Chairman, Christie’s UK. ‘A fitting launch to Christie’s 250th Anniversary celebrations in London and inspired by James Christie’s own innovative spirit, the sale and exhibition will create dynamic juxtapositions and, we hope, inspire artists and collectors of the future. I would like to encourage not only those who are already friends of Christie’s, but also those we have yet to welcome, to share in these celebrations and become part of our next chapter, looking ahead to the next 250 years and beyond.’
Lucian Freud’s Ib and Her Husband, 1992 (estimate on request), is a scene of family affection. The tender brushstrokes that describe the entwined figures of Freud’s daughter Ib (Isobel Boyt), embraced by her partner Pat Costelloe, give a glimpse into the world of the artist’s family at a moment of extreme intimacy: Ib’s pregnancy.
This painting has been exhibited in Freud’s major retrospective, Lucian Freud: Recent Work (1993-94), which took place in London at The Whitechapel Art Gallery, at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and in Madrid at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
At auction for the first time in 100 years, Golden Hours, 1864, by Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830–1896), is a celebration of youth, beauty and love (Estimate: £3-5 million). Transporting the viewer to 16th-century Venice and the world of Giorgione, this work is recognised as a pivotal masterpiece of British Aestheticism, allowing the viewer to revel in its seductive atmosphere, and to dream.
With most major works by Leighton in museum collections, this is one of the last remaining examples in private hands. Last seen in public 20 years ago, it was exhibited in the Leighton retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1996.
Never previously offered for sale, Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Lucy Long, Mrs George Hardinge — a society beauty — is one of the finest works by the artist to come to the market in a generation (Estimate: £2-3 million). Preserved in remarkable condition, the painting is a prime example of the work of the first President of the Royal Academy, who was a close friend and advisor to James Christie.
Offered from the collections at Harewood House, Yorkshire, it was originally painted for Georgina, Lady Peachey, in 1778, and has passed by direct descent through the Marquesses of Clanricarde to the present day. Last included in a public exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1934, this painting has not been seen outside of Harewood for more than 80 years.
The Loan Exhibition (open free to the public from 17 June to 15 July) will present many outstanding British art works which have been handled by Christie’s in the last 250 years, including examples by leading artists working in Britain.