Collector's Corner: Stars of their time will shine brightly again
Bargain-hunting amongst Britain's less well-known artists of the past 50 years can pay, says Gwyn Jones
Saturday 27 January 2007
Even people with no interest at all in art have probably heard of Francis Bacon, for whose work a collector has just paid a record £7.9m in New York. But even Bacon fans are unlikely to know of Reg Butler, a friend of Bacon's who exhibited with him and was at one stage more successful. So what happened to Butler that means his work can now be bought for a fraction of the price a Bacon?
"It's a combination of reasons," says James Rawlin, head of 20th century British art at auction house Sotheby's. "Bacon was a self-publicist, but Butler was quiet and relatively self effacing. Despite the fact he was probably the best known of the younger generation sculptors we had by the end of the 1950s, and was exhibiting all over the world, somehow we have let his reputation slip.
"The international reputation of British artists in the 1950s and 1960s was no less potent than the international reputations of artists now but I think sometimes we don't tend to look at our pictures and sculptures as internationally as we might."
Butler isn't the only British artist to be caught in this rut. Terry Frost died a few years ago and there is work of his from the 1940s up until his death. His real period of achievement was the early 1950s and 1960s, then he was exhibiting all over the world.
Recently, a small, but beautiful picture from that earlier era came up at auction and set a new record. Since November 2004 the record price for a Frost has gone up around six times, from £20,000 to £100,000.
Modern British art has always been dominated by artists linked with the St Ives movement, but there was a group which came under the umbrella of the Constructivists who were working in London at the same time. Collectors are starting to look more seriously at these artists, who include Adrian Heath, Kenneth Martin and Victor Pasmore, who have always been known about but rather forgotten.
Sotheby's had a Heath piece in its last sale, one of his most important to have come up in the past 10 years. It made £105,000. This sounds pricey, but if you wanted to buy such a major work by a defining French figure from that period you would be paying four or five times that, and for an American, even more.
The two best known figures associated with the Independent group are Sir Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull. The scarcity of good Paolozzi works means that the first major piece that appears is going to be well contested.
So how does the market rehabilitate formerly popular artists? "Usually when we see a lift in interest in either a period or a group of artists it's often a mix of things," explains Rawlin. "Within a three- or four-year period you'll usually see in no particular order, perhaps a good museum show or sometimes the publication of a book.
"Sometimes it's a dealer exhibition when a nice catalogue is produced, or it's a work in the salerooms. When we manage to persuade a collector with a great piece to sell it, and it does really well, then that can break through the deadlock."
The difficulty for auctioneers is that if you have a piece by a not-so well-known artist there can a vicious circle, because you don't want to sell it as you think it won't make much. As a result, nothing comes onto the market to stimulate interest. "Still, this is a sector that is growing and expanding and prices are going up," says Rawlin.
The first book on Reg Butler has just been published, and it will be interesting to see what effect that has on his reputation. There was a Terry Frost work in the last Sotheby's sale that raised £159,200, way above its esitmate. Two years ago the price would have been more like £20,000 to £30,000, which shows how collectors who don't just look at the big names, but also their contemporaries, can be making some very good investments.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'
Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'
Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?
Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent
"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier
Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday
Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here
Mark Dampier: Woodford’s young companies could be the stars of the future
10 tips for taking out a personal loan
You'll need £220,000 for a minimum wage in your retirement
Questions of Cash: Something rotten in the cellar causes trouble up above
Weekly Money: round-up of the personal finance stories you may have missed 20-24 October
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
- 5 Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
iJobs Money & Business
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...
£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...
£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...
£100 - 125k: Guru Careers: A CTO / Chief Technology Officer is needed to join ...
Day In a Page
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village