Known as “the wolf of Cork Street”, Leslie Waddington (second picture) – who died last year – was famous in the art world for his acerbic tongue and visual acuity. And in the 1960s, when London’s galleries were populated by young men in tweeds discussing cornices, Waddington was championing modern art. A sale at Christie’s on October 4, The Leslie Waddington Collection, is testament to his keen eye.
Born in Dublin, where his father ran a successful gallery (a Jack Butler Yeats painting is one vestige in the sale of his Irish roots), Waddington opened his own gallery in London in 1966 and by 1989 had risen to become Britain’s leading dealer by sales with a turnover of £74m; clients included Tory party treasurer Lord Alistair McAlpine, and pop art collector EJ “Ted” Power.
His exhibitions featured works by Picasso, Matisse and Miró, as well as the young bucks of the 1960s – Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield and Sir Michael Craig-Martin – and he made his gallery a hub for learning about new art long before national museums had begun taking on the role. He also exposed postwar artists like Jean Dubuffet, Francis Picabia and Josef Albers to international collectors and introduced American abstract painters to the UK.
Featuring work by 23 artists, the collection reflects this range. A centerpiece is a scumbled painting (Visiteur au chapeau bleu, 1955, third picture) by Jean Dubuffet of a bucolic scene estimated to sell for between £2m and £3m. Then there is the stately silence of a painting (£2m-£3m) by Agnes Martin that recalls an empty musical score and, from a critical moment in his career, Alexander Calder’s Le serpent rouge, 1958 (£2m-£3m, fourth picture), an elegant red, blue and black, 2m-wide mobile.
A jaunty pen and India ink sketch (£100,000-£200,000) of the poet Aragon by Matisse contrasts with the mask-like serenity of a head of a woman (£100,000-£150,000) by Picasso, inspired by ancient Iberian art. A minor masterpiece is a Man Ray photo (£10,000-£15,000) of shock-haired sculptor Giacometti. Another highlight is the frail golden painting of a girl’s face, Lampe by Francis Picabia (first picture) selling for between £800,000 and £1.5m.
Five excellent works by Patrick Caulfield including one (£150,000-£250,000) single pink rose and a telephone cast in blue light and mournfully entitled Still Life: Mothers Day (fifth picture) make this sale a draw for lovers of British pop art, as do a pastiche (£20,000-£30,000) of Las Meninas I by Sir Michael Craig-Martin and a collage (£10,000-15,000) by Sir Peter Blake.