From Modern to Old Masters: Sotheby’s Hot Summer Season in London

Led by Minimalist masterpieces from the Ralph I. Goldenberg Collection, a fascinating portrait by Tamara de Lempicka and a Basquiat tryptic, Sotheby's summer auctions are just around the corner.

Picasso cubist bright colors painting
Lot 25, Pablo Picasso, Guitare sur un tapis rouge, est: £10 million-15 million. Courtesy Sotheby's

Now on view at Sotheby's New Bond Street headquarters in London is a preview exhibition of the upcoming Summer Season auctions, which begin with the Modern & Contemporary sales and a marquee Evening Sale on June 25. The auction house will then move to Old Masters and Antiquities, which will be on view from June 28 until July 1 to promote the Old Master & 19th Century Paintings Evening Auction on July 3.

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Standing out in the highlights of the Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction, including the Ralph I. Goldenberg Collection is a magnificent nude by Tamara de Lempicka, Nu adossé from 1925, estimated to fetch between £6 million and £8 million. The painting perfectly captures the exuberant and luscious elegance of the Parisian Gold Age and the post-war society of the 1920s and early 30s.

nude painting of a woman by Tamara de Lempicka
Lot 22, Tamara de Lempicka, Nu adossé, 1925, est: £6 million-8 million. Courtesy Sotheby's

The painting was first exhibited at Lempicka’s seminal solo exhibition at Milan’s Bottega di Poesia gallery, which featured some of the artist’s most important works and ignited Lempicka’s ascendance as a leading figure in the European avant-garde. After disappearing for decades, the painting reappeared in a Sotheby’s sale in 2012.  Meanwhile, the artist’s market has seen considerable growth, with a current record of £16.3 million ($21.2 million) for Portrait de Marjorie Ferry at the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale at Christie’s London in 2020, surpassing the previous record held by her 1927 painting La Tunique rose, which sold for $13.4 million in 2019. Now Nu adossé is back to the market, with high expectations on the final price.

Also featured in the auction is a selection of unmissable works by Pablo Picasso, including his colorful and vibrant Guitare sur un tapis rouge from 1922, which exemplifies the artist’s bold stylistic evolution in the years following the First World War, despite it still maintaining characters from the Cubist vocabulary of decomposition of forms he had pioneered few years before alongside Braque.

Carrying an estimate of £10 million to £15 million, the painting is coming to auction with a prestigious provenance and rich exhibition history: first acquired by Paul Rosenberg, the dealer and collector who played a major role in promoting European Modernism in the United States, it was sold to Walter P. Chrysler Jr. of the Chrysler Corporation. Following this, the work entered the collection of Paul Odo Willert who generously lent the painting first in 1940 to the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and subsequently to two important exhibitions at Tate Gallery in London, including the 1960 Picasso retrospective.

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Another top lot is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s tryptic Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict made in 1982, an important year for the artist who was only 22  but already at the pinnacle of his career. Capturing a lot of his feelings at the time, the painting is titled after James Joyce’s book A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and pays homage to the novel’s exploration of a young man’s religious and intellectual awakening. In this sense, this work is a sincere self-portrait for Basquiat, honoring his rising success in the year he fully transitioned from street to studio, but also revealing his struggles with his self-destruction instincts: painted on pieces of reclaimed wood of various sizes connected in a final shape resembling a religious altarpiece, the work features some many of Basquiat’s most iconic symbols, including the three-pointed crown, the self-portrait head, anatomical drawings, graffiti tags and Latin phrases, as well as direct references to his obsession with mortality.

The tryptic has an estimate of £15 million to £20 million ($20 million to $30 million), lower than the original estimate given when it was withdrawn in 2022 after Christie’s tried to offer it for $30 million. Other works by Basquiat failed to meet the highest estimates this May in New York, signaling a dip in his market, so this more conservative estimate might find a better match with a multimillion market for the artist that is now readjusting after years of unrestrained growth.

tryptic on wood by Basquiat
Lot 18, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict, 1982, est: £15 million-20 million. Courtesy Sotheby's

Across the Modern & Contemporary Marquee sales, Sotheby’s will also offer a selection of top-quality works from the collection of finance executive and art lover Ralph I. Goldenberg, who always had a special love for minimalism. Mary Jane Jacob, former Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, has described the Goldenberg collection as one that “exhibits a different tone of intelligence and knowledge, a studied connoisseurship where a small example can be as articulate and important in quality as a large work.”

From his collection, the auction features an extraordinary Agnes Martin, Untitled, (2001), with a high estimate of £600,000; a unique work on paper by Cy Twombly, Untitled (Formian Dreams + Actuality), with a high estimate of £1.8 million and a masterpiece by Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, 1951, as well as a series of triple-A quality works by Robert Ryman, including  Unfinished Painting from 1983 which has a high estimate of £2 million, riding the wave of recent shows at David Zwirner’s London and New York locations.

work on paper on pink tones by Cy Twombly
Lot 3, Cy Twombly, Untitled (Formian Dreams + Actuality), 1983, est. £1.2 million-1.8 million. Courtesy Sotheby's

The collection continues with some true small-size gems, such as a delicate Alexander Calder stabile, a Jannis Kounellis painting from 1962, a 45cm tall Femme debout by Alberto Giacometti and Piero Manzoni’s intimate 1959 Achrome, measuring just 10 cm. “I am very fond of small works. They’re just wonderful to have around. They’re joyous in a very special way. Small statements are different. So are drawings. They don’t approach you; you must approach them. There’s something private between you and the work, a sense of engagement,” the collector said in an interview in 1988.

Among the few ultra-contemporary names included in the Evening Auction, we find two female auction stars of the last year: painter Loie Hollowell, with Milk Fountain (2019), originally bought at Pace Gallery and with an ambitious high estimate of £700,000, and a psychedelic abstraction of riotous color by Lucy Bull, 10:00 from 2022, with a high estimate of £550,000, after being originally bought by the current owner at David Kordansky Gallery—most likely in the range of $50,000 just a few years ago. Her most recent record was set last month at Sotheby’s with 16:10 (2020), which sold for $1.81 million (more than three and a half times the low estimate) this past May.

Concurrent with the Modern & Contemporary Sales, a sealed sale Sotheby’s is offering an iconic work by  Yayoi Kusama, Phantom Polka Dots of Fate, Ordained by Heaven, Were the Greatest Gift Ever for Me, from 2021. The work belongs to a small series of standing Infinity Mirror Rooms and is the first of its kind to be offered at auction. Intimately scaled, the work pulsates with the same optical energy of the artist’s standing Mirror Rooms that have become so popular in museums all around the world.

Yayoi Kusama, Phantom Polka Dots of Fate, Ordained by Heaven, Were the Greatest Gift Ever for Me, 2021. Courtesy Sotheby's

From Contemporary to Classics: masterpieces in Sotheby’s Old Masters Sales

The Summer Sales at Sotheby’s will continue with Old Masters and antiquities in the main Old Master & 19th Century Paintings Evening Auction on July 3. Leading the sale is an exquisite devotional painting representing The Madonna and Child by Sandro Botticelli and his Studio datable to the 1490s, with a high estimate of £5 million. Once in the Rothschild collection, the painting was considered a studio production until 2012, when a technical analysis carried out by the Metropolitan Museum’s conservator brought about its reassessment: significant underdrawing freely and skilfully executed and typical of Botticelli himself, and numerous changes in the setting out of the figures, for instance, in the contours of the Madonna and Child as well as their overall architectural framework, suggested that the master himself played a leading role in the design and execution of the work.

Other top lots include a pair of paintings of Venice in pristine condition by Canaletto: The Churches of the Redentore and San Giacomo and The Prisons and the bridge of Sighs (estimate: £2.5 million-3.5 million), which capture waterfront views of two of the city’s most imposing landmarks, with his extreme attention to detail and characteristic light tonality creating subtle atmosphere.

Another curious highlight is a rediscovered 16th-century landscape by Herri met de Bles (estimate: £600,000-800,000). Making this painting special is not only its provenance from Rubens’s collection but also the fact that the artist painted over it, reworking the figures in his own ‘Rubenesque’ Style, as the x-ray and infrared technology reveals. Rubens’ habit of collecting and adapting works by other masters as a way to further train his genius and inventiveness is well-known.

Virgin Mary with child by Botticelli and his Studio
Lot 7, Alessandro di Mariano Filippi, called Sandro Botticelli, and Studio, The Virgin and Child, with a landscape beyond, est: £3 million-5 million. Courtesy Sotheby's

From Modern to Old Masters: Sotheby’s Hot Summer Season in London