It has been an important year for The Nine British Art, and not just because we launched the new name for our gallery at the heart of the London art market. Our exhibitions and fairs this year reflected an increasing emphasis on contemporary art alongside, of course, our long-standing expertise in St Ives and post-war British painting and sculpture.
It was apt that 2018 began for us at the prestigious London Art Fair, with exactly this broad and exciting offering. It was fascinating to examine the trends and movements which would power the art market over the next twelve months, and we were delighted to sell an important and rare work by Peter Lanyon, showcased in the monograph on Lanyon’s paintings. Levant Old Mine (1952) was the gateway to the abstract, gestural work for which he would become famous, given added pathos by the fierce cultural attachment he had to Cornwall. It was heartening, too, to see Adrian Heath’s Composition 1958, a painting which stands as a link between the St Ives School and the London-based Constructivists such as Victor Pasmore, attract interest at LAF. Though the painting is less referential than Lanyon’s work, as it speaks volumes of the influence Cornwall had on the Post-War British Art scene. And with other notable sales at LAF, we began 2018 encouraged that the interest in Post-War British Art shows no signs of slowing.
For several years, we have also felt that there is a thirst for contemporary work which echoes the 20th century art movements. Certainly that felt the case with strong sales of both paintings and sculptures by Leigh Davis, Robert Fogell and Tim Woolcock, confirmation that we were moving in the right direction.
As the breadth and scope of our exhibitions and collection continued to grow, the time felt right in 2018 to renew the image of the gallery. We chose The Nine British Art as a name which reflects on British art history, as well as our own recent history at 9 Bury Street. In particular the name evokes the “Nine Abstract Artists”, a progressive group championed by Lawrence Alloway (in his groundbreaking 1954 publication of the same name) which included, among others, Adrian Heath, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Victor Pasmore and William Scott.
To celebrate, we held our annual Summer Exhibition in June, a show which represented everything that has made our gallery so well regarded over the past forty years. Focusing on the diversity and creativity of St Ives and Post-War British Art, it reflected our reputation for championing work of the period immediately after 1945, but also the burgeoning interest in art from the 1970s onwards – there was even a Jonathan Clarke sculpture from 2018. Every work from the 28 artists featured in this exhibition – from John Tunnard to William Scott, Terry Frost to Denis Mitchell – was worthy of a place in our catalogue.
We went into September’s British Art Fair at its new venue in the Saatchi Gallery buoyed by the interest in our summer show, and it was telling that the artists and works which had garnered such attention in June were once again the stars of a busy and successful fair. In particular, we were delighted with the notable sales of an early William Scott portrait, Face and Flowers, from 1942, and John Tunnard’s Abstract Composition, from the same year, together with Peter Lanyon’s Tideway, a later gouache from 1964. It was a fruitful fair for both dealers and buyers, and we were delighted to be able to offer work across all mediums and price points that matched the interests of visitors.
The British Art Fair also saw more interest in our contemporary artists, so there was a real buzz around Leigh Davis by the time it came to his first London solo show at our gallery in October. A New Perspective was a vivid, compelling survey of his bold and expressive abstract painting and intimate sculptures. Drawing on his love for the post-war British artists of the St Ives School, the wild beauty of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, it proved to be almost a sell-out show.
The recent sale of Henry Moore’s Shelter Drawing (1941) and three large paintings by Gary Wragg – who of course was the subject of a solo exhibition here this time last year – has reaffirmed that this is a fertile time for 20th century and contemporary British art. The Nine British Art is proud to be at the very heart of it.