Modern Czech art masterpieces fetch record prices at Sotheby’s auction

František Kupka - 'Movement', photo: CTK

More than 200 masterpieces of Czech avant-garde and modern art fetched record prices at a Sotheby’s auction in London on Monday. František Kupka’s early abstract Movement, created between 1913 and 1919, sold for 1.3 million pounds, the highest sum ever paid for a Czech artwork. Monday’s auction brought 11.1 million pounds, more than double then Sotheby’s estimated. Other significant works sold at the auction included Josef Čapek’s Sailor and Phantomas and Sculptress in the Studio by Emil Filla. Jan Richter spoke about the action with Czech Radio’s reporter in the UK, Ivan Kytka.

František Kupka - 'Movement',  photo: CTK
“I think it was in total 200 masterpieces of the Czech avant-garde and modern art, and the auction without doubt was a big success. If you look at Sotheby’s figures, they estimated that they will get around 5 million pound from those two hundred artefacts.

“In the end, the amount of money that Sotheby’s is receiving from the auction is almost double, about 10 million pounds. So there is no doubt that it was a big success after some hesitation that Sotheby’s went through in the past few weeks. Last week for example, there was a big auction of Russian art, and the estimated price of that was about 55 million pounds, but Sotheby’s received just 10 million pounds less, so I have no doubt that there are many satisfied people at Sotheby’s this morning.”

There were several paintings that broke record prices for Czech modern art. What were some of the ones that fetched the highest sums?

“Obviously the biggest interest was focused on František Kupka’s painting titled “Movement” from the years 1913 to 1919, when he was in Paris and had a very creative period there. Originally, it was estimated that it may sell for something like 500 to 700,000 pounds, in the end, the price was almost double, 1.3 million pounds, which was a big surprise and proved that Czech modern art is becoming more and more popular not just in Central Europe, but also in London, and that it is a sort of hidden jewel for the international auctioneers.

Josef Čapek - 'Sailor and Phantomas',  photo: CTK
So you think that the success at Sotheby’s on Monday could be considered a sign of a rising international interest in modern Czech art?

“I think there is no doubt about that. If you look where Sotheby’s as part of the auction preparations took the Czech avant-garde artefacts, it went to Russia, Moscow, to Austria, Vienna, obviously there was a week-long viewing in London, which has the greatest concentration of art lovers, and art bidders and buyers in Europe, and even the interest in this viewing here was very high.

“Also there was speculation that some buyers will come from the Czech Republic, betting on the fact that if they buy the Czech avant-garde artefacts now, they will be able to sell it a bit later with big profits in the Czech Republic.”

The artworks auctioned on Monday came from one collection, from the United States. Who put together such a large collection of early 20th century Czech art?

František Kupka - 'Disque Blanc',  photo: CTK
“It was the American entrepreneur Norman Hascoe. He died in 2004. He was a very interesting figure in American business and in the area of art collection. He travelled Europe in the early 1990s and visited Prague’s National Gallery, and was really impressed with what was on show there and with the whole world of Czech modernist artists. He started collecting Czech artworks in the early 1990s and was in the business until his death in 2007, when his wife Susan took over the collection and all the artworks.

“Unforunately, Hascoe’s children were not so involved in art collecting, they were no art lovers, and that is one of the reasons why the whole collection, before it went on sale in London, was on display at his mansion in the United States, in Connecticut, which also was on sale. I personally think that it is a pity that all those 200 artworks cannot be exhibited in one place, because together, they make much more sense, and they are a big proof of how well-advanced Czech modern art was some 100 years ago.”