Regional Auction House

The UK's Telegraph has an interesting article on how regional auction houses are growing and expanding their offerings. In the past many regionals had more generalist sales, and now there is more regional growth into specialty areas. The article notes the growth was initially fueled by Asian art, but now as the has cooled as well as the slump in "brown" furniture, there are new specialty areas for growth, such as modern design, and in the UK, modern British art.

I think if we look at what is happening in the regional auction market here in the U.S., we are seeing some of the same changes and growth in speciality areas.

The Telegraph reports
Art sales in the UK’s smaller London and regional salerooms have traditionally been mixed affairs, including everything from Old Master prints to new works by local artists. However, during the past five years there has been a noticeable increase in the number of specialised sales as the most nimble salerooms adapt to changes in the market place, upping their games.

This was led by the boom in Asian art, now on the wane, and by the replacement of out-of-fashion, low-value antique furniture with modern design where supply is plentiful and demand on the increase. Then it expanded to include modern, primarily British art. First out of the blocks were Mallams in Oxford and Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury, since when, the battle for lower-value modern art in the regions has intensified.

One factor assisting this trend has been the rising minimum price below which the main London salerooms are not willing to accept goods for sale. Neither Sotheby’s, Christie’s nor Bonhams want anything worth much less than £1,000, and in most cases, that threshold is more like £5,000. So that’s good news for the smaller salerooms, which mop up the overflow.

Another factor affecting the regions has been the gradual disposal by Bonhams of its countrywide network of auction rooms. Although it has 25 offices spread between Jersey and Edinburgh it now has only one saleroom outside London in the UK (Edinburgh), having closed its auction rooms in Chester, Knowle, Bury St Edmunds and Oxford.

In the case of Bury St Edmunds, where Bonhams held its annual East Anglian art sales before moving them to London in 2010, a reaction is taking place next month, when two Essex auctioneers break new ground launching specialised sales of modern British, and particularly East Anglian art.

For Reeman Dansie in Colchester, the opportunity arose to branch out from its routine mixed sales, when it was offered the contents of the highly regarded painter Peter Coker’s studio – some 150 lots of paintings, drawings and etchings worth £100,000. Estimates will range from £100 to £10,000 for a large painting of exotic plants in a friend’s garden in Provence.

Coker, who died in 2004, is probably best known for his association in the 1950s with the “Kitchen Sink” school of painters, John Bratby, Jack Smith et al, whose gritty domestic realism inspired the leading art critics David Sylvester and John Berger to write about them. But Coker moved away from that grim subject matter, becoming a powerful landscape painter and pursuing a realism grounded in C├ęzanne and Courbet against the fashions of abstraction, pop and conceptualism. This quiet persistence endeared him to the less fashion-driven dealers and collectors, such as the American, Stanley J Seeger, who took down the Francis Bacon triptych in his bedroom to hang a Coker. When three Coker’s from his collection came up for sale recently, they broke the artist’s record on each occasion, rising to £40,000.

Coker also happens to be closely associated with East Anglia, having lived near Manningtree since the Sixties. For Reeman Dansie, which has recently hired Bonhams’ former East Anglian art specialist, Daniel Wright, a Peter Coker studio sale provided the ideal basis from which to build its first East Anglian art sale, filling the gap left by Bonhams in East Anglia. For the sale on April 12, Wright has gathered a good selection of earlier 19th-century artists – the Smythes, Thomas Churchyard etc. But the strength of the market, says Wright, is among the moderns: an ink drawing of Lucian Freud the student by his teacher, Cedric Morris, and a 1961 portrait of Francis Bacon by Denis Wirth-Miller, for example.

By complete coincidence, the Reeman Dansie sale takes place on the same day as the first modern British art sale to be staged by Sworders in Stansted Mountfitchet, 30 miles away. Here, the emphasis is on the artists associated with nearby Great Bardfield in the mid-20th century – Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Kenneth Rowntree, and John Aldridge. A 1934 watercolour of paddle steamers, The James and The Foremost Prince, by Ravilious, included in the Imperial War Museum’s 2003 exhibition for the artist, is estimated at £40,000 to £60,000.

The sale has evolved out of Sworders modern Decorative Arts & Design sales, which have doubled in value since they started in 2011, and has been encouraged by Bonhams’ exit from both East Anglia and Oxford sales, says Sworders’ boss, Guy Schooling. “We also like the low-value modern British art in the £500 to £1,000 range, which the London salerooms won’t handle.”
Source: The Telegraph 

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