Collectors’ Choice


According to the nineteenth century English Philosopher John Stuart Mill “All desirable things… are desirable, either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as a means to the promotion of pleasure.” And currently evermore it seems in the London Auction Houses. Browse through some of the enticing catalogues and it’s not difficult to see why.

With the summer season almost upon us, the auction market is booming, and many a desirable object is shaping the sales room floor.

At Sotheby’s there is buzz of excitement in the air where a rarely seen portrait by Picasso is to be unveiled in public for the first time in two decades. Helena Newman, Global Co-Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department & Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, said “Buste de femme de profil. Femme écrivant comes to auction having remained unseen in public for more than 20 years. It is all the more wonderful to offer this painting created in the spring of 1932 at a time when we are enjoying a world-class exhibition devoted to this year at Tate Modern in London.”

Connoisseurs can also feast their eyes on Barbara Hepworth’s beguiling Alabaster Sculpture Spiral which emerges for sale after three decades. As part of Sotheby’s Modern & Post War British Art Evening on 12th June this unique sculpture will be offered at auction for the first time with an estimate of £1,200,000-£1,800,000. Also included in this sale, a sumptuous collection of prints by the revered and highly collectable artist Howard Hodgkin.

Colour and confidence abound. Over at Phillip’s at a slightly less eye-watering price, entering the auction market with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000 is photographer Tommy Ton. Comprising of 172 Lots, other distinctive names such as Man Ray, Andy Warhol and Helmut Newton are included in the ULTIMATE Evening and Day sales of photography on the 18th May.

There is clearly a strong interest in collecting across all genres, aided perhaps by increased online access as well as rising values. But higher prices needn’t inhibit would be buyers. Price trends for individual makers and categories are more mixed too.

Accessible and equally sought-after collectables such as children’s literature (particularly early first editions) and British studio pottery are on the up. Offered in the auction of Modern First Editions with Chiswick Auctions on Wednesday 30th May is a first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, one of 250 copies privately printed by Beatrix Potter in 1901 for family and friends following multiple rejections by various publishers. The immediate success of the limited run spurred Frederick Warne & Co., who had previously turned the book down, to publish it; this time in colour revealing Peter Rabbit’s blue jacket and Mr. McGregor’s abundant garden to the world.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit is offered with a 1902 first published edition of the same title with an estimate of £12,000-£15,000. Other beloved classics in the sale include a first edition of Lewis Carroll’s The Nursery Alice, inscribed by the author Marie Van de Gucht, with the Author’s love. Mar. 25. 1890 (£8,000-£10,000) and a complete set of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books (£2,500-£3,500).

The collecting trend for British studio pottery has been strong since the 1920s and shows no signs of slowing. A porcelain bowl by Lucie Rie (c.1985) realised an impressive £36,600 last year, and the popularity of British ceramic artist John Ward attests to its increasing appeal with collectors across the globe.

Beyond art, there is a compelling appetite for investment in the wider design market which appears to be reflected in a timely evolution of lifestyle. At Lots Road Auctions, on May 20th the garden sale, an annual feature, part of their contemporary furniture auction, highlights a deepening interest in indoor and outdoor furnishings. Floral pictures, ornamental statues and occasionally fountains can be found amongst an eclectic selection of sale room delights.

According to auctioneer Nick Carter “People do buy seasonally, and we have seen a definite trend towards investment in classical as well as contemporary interior and garden furniture.”

With the Chelsea Flower Show featuring as THE calendar event of the month and desirable items abounding, it’s no wonder that this auction is expected to be busy.

By Jane Duncan (


Photo credits:

Banner: Howard Hodgkin. Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art Evening

Main: Peter Rabbit in Mr McGregor’s garden. Modern First Editions at Chiswick Auctions.

About author