AUCTIONS

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Whisper who dares; Bonhams Chelsea is holding a sale filled entirely with dealers' dead stock (next Saturday and Sunday, 10am-5pm). They are proud of it. Hitherto, it was considered infra dig for auctioneers to allow dealers to dump their hard-to-sell goods into auction. But Bonhams, who are fond of wizard wheezes, have taken the skeleton out of the cupboard and called it a "tag" sale.

Price tag, that is. The 400 18th-20th century pictures and sculptures in this "genuine retail stock clearance" will each be offered at a fixed price: these range from pounds 15 prints to pounds 10,000 paintings. There will not be any bidding.

The sale is the brainchild of Michael Roosen, formerly with the David Messum gallery, now an "independent arts event manager". He is well known to London dealers, 50 of whom have contributed between two and 40 artworks each. They are enthusiastic, he says, about the prospect of attracting new buyers and combating the recession. They should be.

It is not Bonhams' first fixed-price sale. They have held successful annual selling exhibitions of decorative arts by up-and-coming studios - furniture, metalwork - for the past three years. This is the first dedicated to artworks.

Mr Roosen guarantees that both artworks and price reductions are genuine. As for taste and condition, he has warned dealers: "Don't kill a potential golden goose". One thing is for sure: this stock clearance will confuse dealers who habitually gripe that auctioneers are usurping their role as retailers - after all, it is their stock that they are giving to auctioneers to clear.

The week offers opportunities for buyers with only a modest few hundred pounds to spend, and only a modest knowledge of the art market. Sotheby's has estimates from pounds 100 to pounds 40,000 for 200 works from the collection of Pierre Le-Tan, well-known illustrator for The New Yorker and Vogue, Wednesday (10.30am).

No difficulties with taste, here: bidders are presented with the pre- digested taste of a single collector. Le-Tan specialised in Surrealists and the figurative but dreamlike neo-Romantics who exhibited in Paris in 1926 - a movement due for revival. Le-Tan's name confers good provenance: it is an historic collection.

Christian Berard was Le-Tan's favourite Neo-Romantic; Berard's design for Cocteau's film La Belle et la Bete, is estimated at pounds 1,500-pounds 2,000. You will be lucky to get the rare nude drawing of Coco Chanel by her lover, Paul Iribe, for the estimated pounds 200-pounds 300.

Christie's offers the natural history books of Hugh Fattorini, Wednesday (10.30am). The top and bottom of this steadily rising market seldom meet: at the top, millionaires buy the folio-size Gould's Birds of Europe, here estimated pounds 35,000-pounds 45,000. Which makes the tiny, rare first edition of Hunt's three-volume British Ornithology of 1815-1822 seem cheap at pounds 1,000- pounds 1,500, especially with 180 hand-coloured plates. This is the penurious twitchers' end of the market. Do not scorn it. Today's anoraks are tomorrow's waxed jackets.

If you really know nothing about art, visit Bonhams' sale of Russell Flint's languorous, soft-porn nudes in watercolour and print, next Saturday (2pm). Prints have steadied in price but watercolours are still rising.

For auctions nationwide, see pages 16 and 17

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