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Made in Britain: A showcase at Sotheby’s

Celebrating all that is great about British art...

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As Sotheby’s brings us its latest showcase, Made in Britain, we review four years of great Britishness and give you a preview of an art sale that celebrates its endurance. 


Coca Cola deemed 2012 Britain’s “Biggest Ever Year”. Jam packed with a vast array of special events – the Queen’s Diamond Jubliee, the London Olympics and Paralympics, and a Briton’s first appearance in the Wimbledon final since 1938 – this certainly was a year in which we all felt obliged, and very excited, to celebrate Britain.

These events were, naturally, accompanied with gallons of face-paint, social expectations, and lashings of clotted cream. We all became compelled to start taking more exercise as our personal Olympic legacy, to stop drinking so much, to live more greenly, and to buy more British.

Four years on, as 2016 winds down, I think we can safely congratulate ourselves for sticking to most of our 2012 resolutions – some more than others, I hasten to add.

London 2012 Olympics


2012 hosted coconut water’s rise to fame, quickly becoming the post-gym of post-hangover cure du jour – a title it continues to uphold. Equally, 2012 saw the birth of Instagram, a life-changing and life-sharing app which has no doubt encouraged a healthier lifestyle – since Instagram’s release the hashtag #healthyfood has been used 16,869,701 times. Unfortunately, #wine has featured 22,579,193 times… which justifies my suggestion we Brits may have lost sight of the occasional good habit picked up from our “Biggest Ever Year”.


So what might we justly crown 2016? It is a year that has witnessed Donald Trump becoming the Republican Presidential candidate, Leicester City winning the English Premier League, GB beating China in the Rio Olympics, a sunny August Bank Holiday Monday, and Britain voting to leave the EU. Oh, and Selasi not being hailed Star Baker on the first round of Bake-Off. All things considered, 2016 has been a year of surprises for both Great Britain and the world.

Although this year may have thrown up some particularly shocking surprises, what would Britain be without diversity? This September Sotheby’s helps us gain some perspective, creating an auction in vibrant celebration of the diversity and creativity of British art from 1900 to the present day. From 23 September, Sotheby’s will be showcasing ‘Made in Britain’, a sale encompassing over 200 striking artworks by sought-after artists including Grayson Perry, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst to name but a handful.

Mark Quinn eruditely sums up what modern British art is all about:

It’s about wanting to make art about our time. If you were an artist in ancient Greece, you’d make a sculpture of Aphrodite. And artist now with the same idea would make one of Kate Moss. The sculpture of Kate Moss is not that of a real person, it’s a cultural hallucination, an image of perfection we live up to.

Kate Moss Levine, Sotheby's

Chris Levine, Diptych of Kate (est. £10,000-15,000)

And it is just this that makes art so relevant to life in Britain today. Not only does it celebrate those artists who, through their documenting of our time, encapsulate and define ‘our time’ and the various stages of the 20th Century, but furthermore it celebrates Britain as a creative influence. Supporter of around 150 Great British Brands, Country & Town House is firmly ensconced in a paradigm shared by an increasing number of British consumers – investing in home-grown is investing in quality, and it is an investment in something personal and imbued with heritage, character, and, of course, some good old great Britishness.

Queen by Litchfield, Sotheby's

Patrick Lichfield, HM The Queen on HMY Britannia, (est. £800-1,200)

The Sotheby’s Sale:

The Sotheby’s ‘Made in Britain’ auction provides a perfect opportunity for perfect for a new buyer’s first foray into collection. Starring modern muses in Pop Art, photographs from the Swinging Sixties, colourful Post-War canvases and Contemporary prints, the sale really presents the best of British.

What could feel more like home than Kate Moss, just one of the many icons of style represented in the exhibitions as an inspiration to photographers and artists throughout the 20th-century. Enjoy Sotheby’s comparison between Chris Levine’s rare depictions of the modern muse; the pulsating, meditative energy of Levine’s iconic style capturing the radiant glow of a cultural icon, and Banksy’s Kate Moss – a recreation of Warhol’s iconic Pop image of Marilyn Monroe. Photographs from Lord Patrick Litchfield, Brian Duffy and Sir Cecil Beaton compliment these works to illustrate the power of art as something able to immortalise public figures – and quintessentially British ones at that.

Kate Moss Banksy, Sotheby's

Banksy, Kate Moss, 2011

For those of more abstract tendencies, the exhibition offers up work from what, in 1976, R.B. Kitaj termed the ‘School of London’ –  a group of artists working London who performed figurative painting in the face of the ever-growing strength of avant-garde and abstract movements. Think Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Francis Bacon, Michael Andrews and Lucian Freud and 20th-century icons in a different realm to the Kate Mosses, including Freud’s Blond Girl from 1985 (est. £20,000 – 40,000).

Freud Blonde Girl, Sotheby's

Lucian Freud, Blonde Girl (H. 24), 1985 (est. £20,000-40,000)

And all of the above doesn’t even fall under the selection of ‘Quintessentially British works’, featuring one of Britain’s most beloved artists, Beryl Cook. Also showing in this section will be Helen Layfield Bradley, whose charmingly naïve piece Look, the Queen’s Coming! and memories of very nearly missing ‘seeing our Dear Queen Alexandra driving along Regent Street with Princess Mary’, seem to resonate powerfully with a generation that, a century on, possesses an unwavering admiration for the good old Royal Family.

Beryl Cook Look the Queen, Sotheby's

Helen Layfield Bradley, Look, the Queen’s Coming! (est. 40,0000-60,000)

Fortunately, and as this exhibition illustrates, there is no need for us to ‘make Britain great again’…we aren’t called Great Britain for nothing. However, there are plenty of reasons to ensure we preserve this greatness, and this sale at Sotheby’s is the perfect way to remind oneself of what our tiny isle is capable of achieving – in a way that is perhaps less heart-attack inducing than watching Max Whitlock on the pommel horse.

Sotheby’s ‘Made in Britain’,  – pre-sale exhibition from 23 September and auction on 27 September – are cultural highlights not to be missed this month.