Gardens | Past Masters

Garden statuary

With influences from the English country house to the avant-garde, the market for ‘outdoor art’ is flourishing, says Gareth Harris.

February 28 2010
Gareth Harris

Joey Kaempfer is evangelical about art by Rembrandt Bugatti, so much so that works by the early 20th-century Italian sculptor grace his gardens in London and Virginia. “His sculptures are sleek and thrilling. It’s hard to spot the piece in London as it’s surrounded by weeds, but move closer and a panther walking through the jungle springs into view. In the US, there are two cats sitting on a stone wall. When it snows, the bases disappear and the animals look as if they’re meeting each other face-to-face in the wild – it’s electrifying. Great design is beautiful, both inside and out,” says the chairman of the designer outlet shopping company, the McArthurGlen Group.

Twentieth-century garden statuary offers plenty of collecting potential, from classic turn-of-the-century items to dramatic modern pieces by superstar artists. Anna Evans, the Christie’s specialist behind a major garden ornament sale next month in London (March 10), highlights a good starting point: “The late 19th and early 20th century in Britain saw the development of firms which only manufactured garden ornaments and statuary and also acted as retailers of items produced in other parts of Europe. The key names are JP White in Bedford, Bromsgrove Guild (especially for lead pieces) and H Crowther Ltd. Works which can be attributed to these manufacturers have a cachet to knowledgeable collectors.”

Items set to go under the hammer at Christie’s by the Bromsgrove Guild (best known for making the gates at Buckingham Palace) have put aficionados of the late 19th-century Arts and Crafts-led company into a spin. Sought-after objects include a coveted 20th-century figure of a girl with a bird’s nest, estimated at £12,000-£18,000.

“In the past 10 years, Bromsgrove Guild pieces, which very rarely come on to the market, have doubled in price,” says Alex Puddy, whose parents Adrian and Suzy, founders of the Cheltenham-based Architectural Heritage company, are selling more than 200 lots of garden ornaments and statuary, from 18th century to modern replica pieces, with estimates ranging from £500 to £40,000.

Other key 20th-century pieces up for grabs include an Italian carrara marble seat imported by JP White (estimate of £10,000-£15,000) and an octagonal Edwardian summer house created by Julius Caesar & Sons (estimate of £8,000-£12,000). “There is a scarcity of good quality items out there. In the past 10 to 15 years, prices have gone up steadily across the board,” confirms Daniel Edmonds of Architrave Architectural Antiques in Petworth.

But it’s not all about ornamentation. Edward Horswell of London’s Sladmore Gallery emphasises that up until the 1950s, the “outdoor sculpture” market, as he describes it, was mainly driven by classically inspired, ornate objects. But with the demise of the English country house, the shock of the new set in with experimental postwar artists keen to embrace the elements.

“Garden statuary and garden art sculpture are terms that have become interchangeable,” argues Abby Hignell of sculpture specialist Robert Bowman Gallery in London. Modern art purists may sniff nonetheless at the aesthetic distinctions between the two, but as avid collector the Duke of Devonshire points out, “It’s all physical stuff you put in the garden.” In the 105-acre garden at his Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire, striking modern works by artists such as William Turnbull and Elisabeth Frink sit alongside a Roman altar and 17th-century statues of Samson and Pan.

“The year before we moved to Chatsworth, in 2005, I sold a racehorse, and with the proceeds we acquired the wonderful Drummer piece by Barry Flanagan. We had seen it several times down at the New Art Centre in Wiltshire, a sculpture garden which is easily the best commercial gallery for this work in the United Kingdom,” notes the Duke.

“The secondary [resale] market for 20th-century outdoor sculpture is growing but it was very narrow 25 years ago,” he emphasises. In 2006, the Duke set up Beyond Limits with Sotheby’s, a selling exhibition of new and resale works dotted around the grounds by big hitters, such as Henry Moore and Antony Gormley. “Last autumn, a cast-iron maquette of Gormley’s Angel of the North, consigned by a private collector, was the first thing that sold immediately after the exhibition opened,” said Alexander Platon of Sotheby’s. “The sale prices in the Beyond Limits exhibitions range from £150,000 to £5m.”

“A bronze sculpture, Elephant, is one of three works by Flanagan bought by my wife and I from Waddington Gallery in 1991,” adds the Duke. Leslie Waddington of the eponymous London gallery says that the market for Flanagan has grown since his death; a 6ft-high secondary market sculpture by him would fall in the £300,000-£400,000 price bracket, though the value depends on individual sculptures.

The market is also buoyant for early-20th-century modern masters, such as French artist Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) and Italian sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti (1884-1916). “Prices for these artists can be in excess of £1m. We recently sold a Maillol to a US foundation for a sculpture park in St Louis for about $2m,” says Horswell of a successful Sladmore sculpture sale. “For investment value, turn to 20th-century artists with a big reputation, such as Maillol, Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore, and current artists with a good reputation, such as Antony Gormley, Marc Quinn and Nic Fiddian-Green,” he advises.

Don’t go for anything obvious, says James Rylands, director of Summers Place auctions, which holds dedicated garden statuary sales twice a year in collaboration with Sotheby’s: “The tail-end of the 20th century is about spotting market winners. Works by Lucy Kinsella and Jonathan Loxley may be worth thousands, but they could, in time, be worth tens of thousands.”

It’s worth noting also that the resale market for the late Italian artist Enzo Plazzotta (1921-1981) is holding up. Last year, Robert Bowman Gallery sold his work The Swan (1970), £38,000, to the novelist Jeffrey Archer. James Star, a Chicago-based private collector, bagged Plazzotta’s The Creation of Adam (1969) from the same gallery for £18,000. And don’t forget the long-term investment yield of base metals.

And is it possible to get your hands on work by that titan of sculpture, Henry Moore? “We have some small pieces left. His abstract works are not as valuable as his figurative sculptures,” adds Waddington. Moore’s 163cm-high Seated Woman; Thin Neck sculpture (1961, edition of seven) went for $1.4m at Sotheby’s New York last November. For those with shallower pockets keen to add sparkle to their garden, there is, meanwhile, the option of an early 20th-century terracotta “Siegfried” design pedestal by Liberty & Co of London, on offer at the Christie’s Puddy sale. The estimated price? A rosy £500-£800.

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