Modern Art Bringing New Bidders To The Saleroom

Modern Art Bringing New Bidders To The Saleroom

28/10/2023     General News

Many people believe that the most sought-after art in the auction room is that created by ‘Old Masters’, writes Marc Knighton. 

Certainly this was once the case (and the most expensive picture ever sold remains Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ which fetched a staggering $450 million in New York in 2017).

But you may be surprised to learn that at every level of the market, interest in more modern artists is at least as strong, if not stronger, than those from previous times.  Fourteen of the 20 most expensive works of art ever sold were created in the 20th century, and three more were painted in the last decade of the 19th century.  Just three of that top 20 were painted before 1890.

The perceived wisdom is that artists tend not to be appreciated until after their death, but the art market at the moment is very much inclusive when it comes to contemporary artists.  This is something relatively recent – it was only ten years ago that Keys tentatively held our first Modern Art & Design Sale; these events are now a highlight of our sales calendar, taking place once a quarter.

It is noticeable that auctions of modern art tend to attract a very different set of bidders from more traditional picture sales.  They tend to be younger, and with a higher proportion of individual collectors alongside the dealers.  This is art that people are buying to enjoy rather than necessarily as an investment.

Our last Modern Art & Design Sale of the year takes place in November, and the breadth of works on offer is testament to how this branch of the art market is currently in a very dynamic state.

Among those represented are two Scottish artists, Peter Howson and Renny Tait.  Howson was born in London in 1958 but has lived in Scotland since childhood.  He is regarded  as one of the most formidable contemporary figurative artists and was the subject of a BBC documentary ‘The Madness of Peter Howson’ which chronicled his difficult journey in completing a commission for St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow.

Born in 1965, Tait is particularly well known for his architectural pictures, which pay tribute to the shape, design and craftsmanship and the inherent sense of wonder which give certain buildings iconic status. 

Another artist known for their architectural work who features in the Sale is Sean Scott, who has a particularly distinct, unusual, clinical style of painting.  The works featuring in the Sale are mostly architectural, highlighting his incredible talent for perspective and the built environment.

Other works going under the hammer include a copper kettle still life by Janine Wing which shows incredible artistry with subtle changes in tone to deceive the eye; eight prints by Spanish artist Antonio Saura (1930-1998); three prints by Danish painter and sculptor Asger Jorn (1914-1973); and two excellent signed exhibition posters by Gilbert & George.

Finally, we have a nice small screenprint of a $10 bill by Nadia Tolokonnlkova of Pussy Riot.  Influenced by the landmark overturning of Roe v Wade, this work responds to a symbol of patriarchy (the US Dollar) at a time when women's rights are being challenged all over the world.  The work serves as a timely reminder that a woman has not been featured on US paper money in over 100 years.

Whilst works by Old Masters continue to find buyers in the saleroom, alongside this the emergence of modern and contemporary art as a force at auction has brought a whole new set of bidders to auctions, and demonstrates a healthy appreciation for artists who are creating work today – something many of those Old Masters would have appreciated in their own lifetimes.

  • Keys’ Modern Art & Design Sale takes place on Friday 10th Full details, including an online catalogue, will be available at

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