Young British Artists eclipsed by older generation

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The Independent Online

For the past decade or so it has been the Young British Artists who have grabbed the headlines, with artists such as Damien Hirst commanding £1m or more for their most ambitious works.

But there are now signs that older generations of major British painters and sculptors are being rediscovered at the auction houses by the new band of collectors in the UK.

Artists such as Bridget Riley, Anish Kapoor and Peter Doig have all broken the £1m barrier in the past year, to achieve prices that were at least double their pre-sale estimates.

And Cheyenne Westphal, the chairman of contemporary art for Sotheby's in Europe, is predicting that at the age of 75, the reclusive Frank Auerbach, who escaped Nazi Germany for Britain as a child, will be the next big thing. "There has been an unbelievable rise upwards in British painting over the last couple of years," she said.

"Overall the return to figurative work and to painting in the last five years makes you re-evaluate the older generation. I think Auerbach is poised to make the next big leap - if not this sale, it will happen."

Although high prices for the late Francis Bacon (record £7.9m set 2006) and for Lucian Freud (record £4.1m set 2005) have become a feature of the salerooms in recent years, many other artists have remained comparative bargains until now.

Untitled (Diagonal Curve) (1966), an early Pop Art masterpiece by Riley, 75, was estimated to make up to £400,000 at Sotheby's London last summer. It went for £1.18m .

Doig, 47, enjoyed his first million-pound painting when Iron Hill went for £1.128m in the same sales last June, two or three times more than estimated.

Another Doig, White Canoe, which was once owned by Charles Saatchi, is being sold in next Wednesday's contemporary art sale with an estimate of up to £1.2m.

Ms Westphal said: "He is defining a generation not just of British painters but of painters. You can't really collect figurative painting from the 1990s and not see Doig as probably the leading artist."

Although Auerbach is not yet in the seven-figure league, his painting, After Mornington Crescent II (1993), made £456,000 last year against an estimate of £250-350,000 and another work is expected to make up to £700,000 at next week's auction.

The Camden Theatre in the Rain was one of the stars of the Royal Academy exhibition, British Art in the 20th Century, and illustrated the poster for Auerbach's 1978 retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London. It has been described as a masterpiece of his most artistically fertile and commercially sought-after period in the 1970s.

Talk of Auerbach's big leap was dismissed by his dealer. Geoffrey Parton, of Marlborough Fine Art, said: "He's a major artist who has been steadily building his reputation for 50 years. He has always done very well."

But Ms Westphal was adamant that the greater number of collectors in Britain was boosting interest.

Other factors can help. Anish Kapoor's profile in America was boosted by the installation last year of Sky Mirror, a huge mirror, on Fifth Avenue in New York, and Cloud Gate, a sculpture installed in Chicago's Millennium Park in 2004.Kapoor, 52, broke the million-pound barrier last November at Sotheby's New York with Untitled (1999), a piece in carved alabaster, which went for $2.256m (£1.186m).