Phillips auctions a stonking collection of Young British Artists

Robert Tibbles bought his first Damien Hirst for £600 – it’s expected to fetch more than £1m on February 13

Damien Hirst, Bodies (1989), estimated £1.2m to £1.8m
Damien Hirst, Bodies (1989), estimated £1.2m to £1.8m | Image: Courtesy of Phillips

Over 30 years, Robert Tibbles has amassed one of the biggest and best collections of British contemporary art, with works by Damien Hirst, Sarah Morris, Gary Hume, Ian Davenport, Julian Opie and Mat Collishaw dotted around his London home. “I don’t believe anybody sets out to be a collector,” says the former bond salesman, who developed strong relationships with dealers including Jay Jopling and Karsten Schubert. “There was an organic, natural progression to my collection – I bought as and when these works were shown to me.” 

Michael Craig-Martin, Narrative Painting (1993-1994), estimated £30,000 to £40,000
Michael Craig-Martin, Narrative Painting (1993-1994), estimated £30,000 to £40,000 | Image: Courtesy of Phillips

Now Tibbles has come full circle, and with a sense of completion came his decision to put the pieces up for auction. “There is a point where you just can’t make the collection more than it already is. It makes sense for all of it to be shown together,” he enthuses. “Phillips is showing the works off in an incredibly uplifting, open and democratic way, and I love that. Four major works will be right in the windows overlooking Berkeley Square. It’s fantastic.”

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The collection goes under the hammer on February 13 and 14. Here are five highlights:

Gilbert & George, City Fairies (1991), estimated £120,000 to £180,000
Gilbert & George, City Fairies (1991), estimated £120,000 to £180,000 | Image: Courtesy of Phillips

1. Damien Hirst is one of the best-represented artists in the sale. Tibbles bought the medicine cabinet Bodies from his degree show in 1989 for £600. “It was one of four cabinets named after the tracks from the Sex Pistols’ debut album. Bodies makes you look at something totally ordinary in a very different way. There’s something about Damien’s work that gets under your skin.” Estimated £1.2m to £1.8m.

Sam Taylor-Johnson, Pietà (2001, from an edition of three), estimated £20,000 to £30,000
Sam Taylor-Johnson, Pietà (2001, from an edition of three), estimated £20,000 to £30,000 | Image: Courtesy of Phillips

2. Michael Craig-Martin’s Narrative Painting (1993-1994) was a commission. After seeing an exhibition by the artist in Paris, Tibbles invited him to create a painting for his flat in St Georges Square in Pimlico. “He produced a canvas with a large expanse of pink to symbolise one wall, and an eighth of yellow to symbolise part of another wall. He also included a book [in the composition], and said to me: ‘If you want to be a really serious contemporary art collector, Robert, you cannot have curtains or books.’” Estimated £30,000 to £40,000.

Damien Hirst, Antipyrylazo III (1994), estimated £900,000 to £1.2m
Damien Hirst, Antipyrylazo III (1994), estimated £900,000 to £1.2m | Image: Courtesy of Phillips

3. Gilbert & George’s City Fairies (1991) is a colourful 18-part photographic montage – and a perfect example of the duo’s practice. The mixed-media hand-dyed photographs were purchased through then iconic gallerist Anthony D’Offay, shown in the 2007 Tate retrospective, and now estimated to sell for between £120,000 and £180,000.

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4. Sam Taylor-Johnson’s two-minute film Pietà (2001) depicts the artist holding a Hollywood actor in a Renaissance composition. As Tibbles points out, “It is a beautiful work about friendship and kindness, which captures the softness and warmth shared between her and her friend Robert Downey Jr at a time when both were experiencing low points in their lives.” Estimated £20,000 to £30,000

5. Tibbles purchased Hirst’s Antipyrylazo III – one of the artist’s first geometric paintings – in 1994 from Jay Jopling. “I remember Jay telling me that each colour is different, but with more than 2,000 spots it’s actually impossible to tell. It’s an incredibly joyful work, with a helix running through it, and if you squint a bit it really dances.” Estimated £900,000 to £1,200,000.

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