Modern British Art: Sculpture Rules as Dames Barbara Hepworth and Elisabeth Frink Take the Crowns

It’s Twentieth Century Week again in London, and Christie’s led the way this evening with a Modern British Art Evening sale that sold 80% of pieces, totalling almost £17.5 million – at the highest end of its pre-sale estimate. I recently wrote an article on girls ruling the art world, and I think it’s time to reiterate this yet again, but this time within the canon of Modern British Sculpture. While the number of artworks by women artists was still disappointing, the prices realised tonight certainly were not. Dame Barbara Hepworth ruled the roost with a whopping £6.1 million, while Dame Elisabeth Frink smashed the pre-sale estimates of £600,000 - £900,000, reaching £1.4 million, and gaining her a new auction record along the way.

Dame Barbara Hepworth's 'The Family Man' topped the sale at £3.8 million

Of the 32 pieces offered (this figure excludes the Turnbull that was withdrawn pre-sale), just a quarter were created by women. In fact, there were just three sculptors: Dame Barbara Hepworth with four (one of the original five was withdrawn just preceding the sale), Dame Elisabeth Frink with two, and a lone piece by Emily Young. Not a single painting by a female artist was included in the sale. However, these three women made a fantastic £7.6 million – 44% of the total income, and over 50% of the takings from sculptures in the sale – beating the men hands down.


The biggest sale of the night was Dame Barbara Hepworth’s ‘The Family of Man (Figure 8, The Bride)’, estimated at £2-3 million but hammering down at £3.2 million, exceeding £3.8 million including buyer’s premium. Despite one withdrawal and one pass, Hepworth was by far the highest earner of the night. Dame Elisabeth Frink’s ‘Running Man (Front Runner)’ doubled the pre-sale estimate at £1,091,250, to become her most expensive ever piece to be sold at auction.


Dame Elisabeth Frink's 'Running Man' broke her auction record by £10,000

It wasn’t just the women that made a splash though, with Henry Moore’s seven sculptures raising £4.7 million, and all three of Barry Flanagan’s pieces beating their pre-sale estimates, grossing £2.5 million. There is no doubt that sculpture won the night, with paintings only bringing in 15% of the total, and the highest sale price £611,250 for L.S. Lowry’s ‘The Red Bridge’.

'Working Model for Oval with Points' by Henry Moore sold for £2.1 million

All eyes will be on Sotheby’s tomorrow for its first sale since the announcement of the auction house’s acquisition by French media tycoon Patrick Drahi. In a much more painting-dominated auction, just three pieces by female artists are included, and estimated to raise £300,000 - £440,000, with a Hepworth sculpture expected to make two thirds of this.

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