Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
PROPERTY FROM THE EDGAR ASTAIRE COLLECTION
Edgar Astaire: A Private View
My grandparents had no art on their wall except an unknown reproduction of a Paris street, which hung over the fireplace. Their apartment was stripped of all beauty; this is not a criticism, it is simply an observation, a fact. So my father’s art education as a young man was looking through art books in the Vaughan library at Harrow School. In his prep school 1942 yearbook, it recorded his interest in photography, which he remained passionate about throughout his life. Photography would be the catalyst that ignited his love for art. He’d study paintings and take a photograph of them in his mind and let the photograph develop slowly to various colours; into greens, reds, yellow and the image would become more defined as if in his mind’s eye it was already his. For his dream was to create a collection that would give enjoyment to those who viewed it. More than anything it was his ambition.
Only a couple of years before he died he was visited at home by a group of four experts from the Courtauld. In his drawing room surrounded by his finest pictures they spent two hours discussing his passion and viewing his collection. They wrote to him a few days later commending the quality of the art and admiring his lifetime of honing his collection. He told me that the letter gave him more than pleasure; it was a humbling endorsement.
His first serious purchase was Alfred Munnings, Hop Pickers Returning, c. 1913. Oh how he loved this painting. He used to take me by the hand when I was about five into the drawing room and asked me to look up at the painting and ask whether I could see the figures move; I could. I saw them literally glide across the painting and I imagined their story unfolding in front of my eyes. I found it a magical painting and it is here at Christie’s for auction. While it was Sir Alfred’s painting that sparked his passion to collect it was Mark Gertler who turned art collecting into a lifetime’s passion.
Everything about Gertler fascinated my father; Gertler’s impoverished Jewish upbringing in London’s East End like that of his parents, his complicated melancholic love story, his tragic end, but above all his talent. He experienced that sensation when you find an artist and you feel it is your own secret, that no one truly understands his true worth and you’re okay about it because you don’t have to share his work with everyone; this is how he initially felt about Gertler. A human condition that when you’ve discovered something special, you don’t want to let it go. But as the years passed and his collection of Gertler pictures grew, he felt a shift with everyone he mentioned the artist to. They wanted to see his work and many a time I remember seeing people visit his home simply to see his paintings. There was no longer the desultory wave from an art critic’s left hand but a growing consensus that Gertler is one of England’s most important painters of the last century. In his will he bequeathed two Gertler portraits: The Artist’s Brother Harry holding an Apple to Tate and Self-Portrait with Fishing Cap to the National Portrait Gallery.
Edgar encouraged many young artists and often went to shows to buy as much to be supportive as believing in the talent. But fundamentally his acquisitions reflected his taste. He invested in the Flowers East Gallery and supported a number of their artists. He commissioned artists to paint or draw places that were important to him. He had an eye for the beautiful and it was a gift that perpetrated through his homes. He bought paintings at a variety of prices. At the time he paid the highest price for a L.S. Lowry oil. When he sold the painting he instantly regretted it. He suffered the loss not only financially but also emotionally. He decided afterwards that if possible he would hold on to as many paintings as he could until the end of his life.
He loved popping in to The Fine Art Society on Bond Street in search of furthering his art education and in the hope that some of its art would eventually hang on his wall. It was there he regularly met its director Peyton Skipwith who encouraged him to buy Gertler, Bomberg, and Sickert, which he did. Having been entrapped by Gertler he then fell for his contemporary David Bomberg, a similarly brilliant and complex artist. Bomberg’s Siloam and The Mount of Olives remained my father’s favourite from the day he bought it. The light conceived on the canvas reminded him of the region’s heart and the biblical history that so fascinated him.
For Edgar, owning a fine painting was just the start. He always had a quest to find out as much as he could about the artist and the subject. The Violinist was the first substantial Gertler he acquired but more than forty years after acquiring it, the identity of the model is still unknown. For many, this would be a frustration, but for my father, it was a joy - the hunt continued and the mystery was sustained. The search for the next wonderful canvas was a perpetual joy in his life. There was nothing he liked more than receiving a call from one of his many friends in the art world saying, “Edgar, I have something you may fancy”.
He once said to me how envious he was of people who had never been to Venice, because of the thrill that awaited them on experiencing it for the first time. He felt the same on first seeing a painting he loved.
VICTORIAN, PRE-RAPHAELITE AND BRITISH IMPRESSIONIST ART SALE: 16 JUNE 2015
MODERN BRITISH AND IRISH ART, EVENING SALE: 25 JUNE 2015
MODERN BRITISH AND IRISH ART, DAY SALE: 26 JUNE 2015
OLD MASTER AND WATERCOLOURS SALE: 7 JULY 2015
Pulsating with Life: Young British Artists in the Early Twentieth Century
In the years immediately prior to the outbreak of the First World War the British art scene exploded in an extraordinary outburst of vitality. This was the arrival of Modernism, the moment when that now familiar phrase, the avant garde, first entered the English lexicon. It saw the emergence of a remarkable crop of talents, many of whom are represented in Edgar Astaire’s outstanding collection. Coincidentally, the majority of the artists he collected – Walter Sickert, William Rothenstein, Augustus John, Mark Gertler, C.R.W. Nevinson, David Bomberg, William Roberts and Isaac Rosenberg– were all linked by their attendance at one particular art school: the Slade. Founded in 1871 as part of University College London, by the last decade of the nineteenth century the Slade had become one of the most advanced places in Britain to study art, fostering under its drawing master, Henry Tonks, a keen attention to life study and meticulous draughtsmanship.
Augustus John and Mark Gertler (as well as Gertler’s contemporary at the Slade, Stanley Spencer) were among Tonks’s most talented pupils. Indeed, John Singer Sargent would remark of John’s student drawings that nothing like them had been seen since the Renaissance, and he would tell the young David Bomberg that the Slade ‘was the finest School for draughtsmanship in the world’. This was Tonks’s ambition: to point his students back to the long tradition of Western art history, to reveal to them the Old Masters, and to encourage them to produce their finest work within this tradition. The great names Tonks encouraged his students to study and emulate included Michelangelo, Holbein, Rubens, Rembrandt, Ingres and Watteau – artists whose work they diligently studied first hand at the National Gallery, the British Museum and Dulwich Picture Gallery. Thus we witness John’s exquisite portrait of his mistress and second wife, Dorothy McNeill (known as Dorelia), as well as Gertler’s startlingly accomplished drawing of his friend, muse and fellow Slade student, Dora Carrington, together with his early Renaissance-inspired paintings of Carrington and the mysterious The Violinist. Isaac Rosenberg’s extraordinary self-portrait reveals these young artists’ remarkable ability to capture the personality in a face – their own, or another’s. This is drawing hard won only by looking, from endless hours of labour in the life class.
This period was not just about its personalities, however. It was also about the eruption of a range of movements and manifestoes – the dramatic arrival in Britain of a series of exciting challenges to Tonks’s long academic tradition. Roger Fry – the Bloomsbury critic and painter who would so dominate aesthetic taste and debate in the opening decades of twentieth-century England – called the continental artists who mounted this challenge to traditionally perceived representations the Post-Impressionists. They included some of the greatest names of modern European art: Manet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, Cezanne and Picasso. In two exhibitions held in London in 1910 and 1912, Fry brought their new vision to a startled and largely unsuspecting British audience. Many of the critics were appalled. As The Times observed, such work ‘throws away all that the long-developed skills of past artists had acquired and bequeathed. It begins all over again – and stops where a child would stop.’ ‘I cannot teach what I don’t believe in,’ Tonks declared when it was suggested that he might open up the Slade’s curriculum to these new influences. ‘I shall resign if this talk about Cubism does not cease; it is killing me.’
Alongside the appearance of Post-Impressionist art in England, there was also the arrival of the Futurists – a group of Italian artists led by the larger-than-life poet and controversialist, Filippo Marinetti. The Futurists, as one English critic observed at the time, ‘are young men in revolt at the worship of the past. They are determined to destroy it, and erect upon its ashes the Temple of the future. War seems to be the tenet in the gospel of Futurism: war upon the classical in art, literature and music.’ It sounded exciting, and though C.R.W. Nevinson became the Futurists’ only English convert, they inspired other younger generation artists. These converts included David Bomberg, who embraced the idea of a new, increasingly abstract art that explored the drama of the urban world around him; by 1914 Bomberg was producing some of the most dynamic, exciting and unsellable work in London. It was this fusion of ideas and outpouring of innovative work that helped lead Percy Wyndham Lewis (himself a Slade graduate) to found the Vorticist movement shortly before the outbreak of the Great War, with the American sculptor Jacob Epstein among his young associates. Between them, the work of this group of young artists marks a pinnacle of British artistic production that was not really to be repeated until the emergence of the Pop Artists in the 1950s and 60s – artists such as Peter Blake and David Hockney, a second wave that is also represented (albeit on a much smaller scale) in Astaire’s collection.
It was, of course, the Great War that undermined this dynamism. Nevinson, Bomberg, Roberts and Rosenberg would all eventually volunteer for military service, with the latter being killed in action in April 1918. Only Gertler refused to participate in what he called the ‘wretched, sordid butchery’; he registered as a conscientious objector, and in 1916 painted his anti-war masterpiece, The Merry-Go-Round (Tate). That same year, Walter Sickert would write of Nevinson’s 1915 painting, La Mitrailleuse (Tate) that it ‘will probably remain the most authoritative and concentrated utterance on the war in the history of painting.’ Sickert’s judgement has proved accurate, and La Mitrailleuse remains one of the definitive images of the conflict.
A lifeline for both art and artists would eventually be offered by the Government’s official war artists scheme, launched in 1916, and followed later on by a similar programme of record, propaganda and memorial run by the Canadian government. Nevinson, Bomberg, Roberts, Rothenstein and Augustus John all saw service with one or even both of these schemes. As well as keeping many talented young artists alive, the War Artists scheme also gave them hope at a time when the future seemed to offer none. ‘There is a good time coming for Art yet in England,’ Mark Gertler predicted after receiving a commission to paint an official picture in 1918. ‘I have a feeling that we are going to have good painting, after the War, there are good times coming if only we can hold out. This War is not the end.’
For a moment, Gertler’s prediction seemed to hold true. Shortly after the Armistice the prominent New York collector Albert Eugene Gallatin visited Europe, and was fascinated by what he saw in London. ‘Pulsating with life and possessing a distinctly fresh vision,’ he told an interviewer from The Observer in 1921, ‘a movement is now well under way which, in my opinion, will develop into one of the great epochs of English painting. Paris and New York cannot in this respect vie with London.’ This new vitality had its origins immediately before the war. It had then been interrupted by the war, before being reinvigorated by it. Sadly, its promise was not fully realised. C.R.W. Nevinson had his moment in New York, when that city seemed to promise him a way forward, to maintain the momentum from the war, but it was not to be. David Bomberg was forced abroad, travelling to Palestine, and later to Spain, to pursue his remarkable vision. Neither John’s nor Gertler’s star ever shone so bright again, and it would be many decades before London really did vie with Paris and New York to hold the crown of contemporary art. For a moment, however, it had seemed that it was here, in England, out of the horrors of war, that Western art’s future might really lie.
David Boyd Haycock, May 2015