Colin Gleadell details the aggressive moves behind last week’s record sale of Stanley Spencer’s “Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta,” which appeared to be coming to auction from a single previous owner who bought it directly from Spencer’s dealer:
In 2010, the painting was exhibited by the St James’s gallery Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, and acquired from it by the well-known Manchester collector of contemporary art, Frank Cohen – information that was omitted from the auction catalogue. The price Cohen paid was said to have been about £2.2 million. The auction record for Spencer at the time was the £1.4 million for Hilda and I at Pond Street, but those with their ears to the ground were confident that this record was soon going to be surpassed.
Sure enough, in the summer of 2011, the Spencer market took off when that record was trounced six times at Sotheby’s famed Evill/Frost sale, rising to £5.4 million.
The following year, Cohen exhibited his privately acquired trophy at Chatsworth House – an exhibition that was also excluded from the Christie’s catalogue – declaring that he had lost interest in contemporary art and was concentrating on his first love, modern British art.
In truth, though, he was pursuing his interests in both, and selling art to fund those interests. A sale of 140 or so contemporary works that was held in Paris this February was a bit of a damp squib, and raised barely £300,000, half what had been hoped for, to fund the opening in April of The Dairy – a not-for-profit contemporary arts and exhibition centre in London which Cohen shares with another dealer/collector, Nicolai Frahm.
A much better deal was struck when he offered Christie’s his Stanley Spencer and the auction house found a third party to guarantee the sale of the painting with an estimate of at least £3 million. Cohen had therefore made a profit even before the sale and, based on the Evill/Frost sale results, was looking at the possibility of making more. Certainly, Christie’s was promoting his painting as one of the most important by Spencer to come on to the market.
At the sale last Wednesday evening, there were at least three bidders in contention at £3.8 million, and one, an anonymous telephone bidder, at £5.3 million.
Art Sales: Spencer leads the British charge (Telegraph)