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Fashion queen Victoria Beckham has joined forces with Sotheby’s in London for its season of Old Masters auctions and is showing 16 portraits in her nearby Dover Street store from this week (June 22-27). The works she has chosen from Sotheby’s auctions on July 4-5 span the late 15th to 18th centuries and range in price from £10,000 — the low estimate for an early 16th-century Northern Netherlandish School “Double Portrait” — to £4m, for Peter Paul Rubens’ “Portrait of a Venetian nobleman” (c1620).
Beckham has to date been a collector of contemporary art alongside her husband, the retired England footballer David Beckham, but says a visit to The Frick Collection in New York inspired her interest in Old Masters. “The breadth of what I saw on just one day really piqued my interest and I am loving learning more,” she says. Musicians Beyoncé and Jay-Z also put older art in the spotlight recently when they featured several works from the Louvre, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, in the video for their new album’s lead single “Apeshit”.
The Sotheby’s works chosen by Beckham will hang alongside the designer’s “pre-fall collection”. Portraits, with their contemporaneous clothes and jewellery, are, she says, “the perfect choice” for fashion retail. “The idea of the sense of self and identity is something that resonated with me,” she adds.
Ties between art and fashion have grown stronger in recent years, but brands have tended to align themselves with edgy contemporary or classic Modern works. Beckham’s move into Old Masters seems innovative by comparison and her “influencer” status can only help draw attention to an under-loved area of the art world.
Given the intense recent weeks of Impressionist and Modern art auctions in New York in May, and the impact of Art Basel at the beginning of June, it’s a wonder that there’s any art left to sell — particularly in an area of shrinking supply. Nonetheless London’s auction season began in earnest this week, though Sotheby’s seemed to suffer from end-of-term fatigue at its Impressionist & Modern evening sale on Tuesday, which made £75m (£87.5m with fees), well below expectations of between £100m and £125m. Supply was already average in a pared-down sale of only 36 lots, 10 of which then failed to find buyers on the night. These included two works by Claude Monet — “Le Port de Zaandam” (1871, est £3.5m-£5m) and “Citrons sur une branche” (1884, est £2.5m-£3.5m) — both from an American collection and burdened with auction house guarantees, meaning that Sotheby’s has to pay out an undisclosed amount to the seller while keeping the works on its books. Picasso’s “Buste de femme de profil (Femme écrivant)” (1932) was the big disappointment of the evening, going for £24m (£27.3m with fees), against an estimate of around £33m, seemingly to its third-party backer.
The auction house’s executives put on a brave face, highlighting the global nature of buyers, including from Japan and Russia. Of the Monet paintings, Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, felt sure that a swift post-auction sale was on the cards.
Somewhat quietly, on June 2 Sotheby’s altered its fee structure so that, for example, amounts between £2m and £3m, which previously qualified for a 12.9 per cent premium, now move to a 20 per cent charge.
This column went to print ahead of another similarly estimated auction at Christie’s on June 20. Expected big hitters were Claude Monet’s “La Gare Saint-Lazare, vue extérieure” (1877, est £22m-£28m) and Pablo Picasso’s “Femme dans un fauteuil (Dora Maar)” (1942, est £18m-£25m).
South Africa’s newest private museum, the Norval Foundation and Sculpture Garden, which opened in the Steenberg area of Cape Town at the end of April, is already making its presence felt. The foundation is funded by the businessman collector Louis Norval and his family, whose latest acquisition is Yinka Shonibare’s seven-metre colourful fibreglass “Wind Sculpture (SG) III” (2018), for £750,000, through Goodman Gallery. The first edition from this nine-part series, “Wind Sculpture (SG) I” is currently on display in New York’s Central Park until October 14 (through James Cohan gallery and the Public Art Fund).
Shonibare lives in the UK but was born in Nigeria, and the Norval’s acquisition will be his first permanent public sculpture in the continent of his birth. The artist says he is “thrilled” his work will be more visible in Africa. “The principle of this acquisition will resonate far beyond the institution itself. I can’t tell you how proud I am,” he says. His work, currently in production, explores assumptions of identity and goes on view permanently in the grounds of the Norval Foundation from February 2019.
Chief executive of the Norval Foundation, Elana Brundyn, describes its collecting strategy as “a global art platform that is broader than Africa, but relates to our community”. She joins from Cape Town’s Zeitz Mocaa private museum, which she helped to develop for four years until its opening in 2017.
In the art market, social mobility is arguably even more of an issue than gender equality. Pay is rarely a perk of most jobs for which who-you-know can be prized more highly than what-you-know. Enter Easel, a charitable initiative and online resource that this month launched a mentorship programme aimed at UK graduates and undergraduates considering careers in the art world.
The art business “remains a largely exclusive environment and jobs are too often the preserve of those privileged enough to have some form of financial support in their early careers,” says founder Charlotte Maxwell. Would-be mentees are keen — Maxwell says that 300 have signed up so far — so mentors are in demand. I’ve lodged my interest, via easelinitiative.com — over to you.