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

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; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Guru Careers: Project Manager / Business Analyst

    £40-50k + Benefits.: Guru Careers: A Project Manager / Business Analyst is nee...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power