Works by Sir John Richardson’s Many Friends in Sotheby’s Sale

The art historian John Richardson collected art by his pals Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol. The works will be sold in New York and London in the fall.

Lucian Freud’s portrait of John Richardson will be displayed at Sotheby’s but is destined for the National Portrait Gallery, a gift of the scholar’s estate.
Credit...Lucian Freud; via Sotheby's

John Richardson, the art historian and Picasso biographer who died last year at 95, was a collector. He collected friends — Picasso, Georges Braque, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol, to name only a few. He also collected images of friends, by friends. He had a portrait of Mick Jagger by Warhol and an etched self-portrait of Freud.

He also had six prints by Picasso. And he had an oil portrait of himself, painted by Freud. The Picassos and the self-portrait of Freud will be sold at Sotheby’s in New York in the fall, with bidders online or on phones, and the Warhol will be sold in a single-lot online sale in September. A monumental landscape by the Symbolist painter Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer and a pastel on paper by the artist Pavel Tchelitchew will be included in other sales in the fall, and the gallery Stair will hold a sale of furniture and other items from Richardson’s Fifth Avenue apartment on Sept. 17.

Freud’s expressive portrait of Richardson will be displayed at Sotheby’s in London until July 28 but will not be sold: It is bound for the National Portrait Gallery in London, a bequest of John Richardson to the American Friends of the National Portrait Gallery, a New York-based nonprofit group.

ImageLucien Lévy-Dhurmer’s “Paysage Montagneux.”
Credit...Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer; via Sotheby’s

Richardson was perhaps best known for “A Life of Picasso,” the monumental biography, three volumes of which have been published. He was working on the fourth volume when he died, and it is expected to be published by Alfred A. Knopf in the fall of 2021, said Shelley Wanger, an executor of Richardson’s estate and a senior editor at Pantheon Books and Knopf.

Mary Bartow, the head of Sotheby’s print department in New York, said that Richardson’s collection “came about because he was a scholar” but that “Richardson as the scholar morphed into Richardson as the collector.”

“He started looking at Picasso,” she said, “and realized early on how important printmaking was to Picasso. In fact, Picasso made prints from 1900 all the way up to two weeks before he died. Printmaking for him was not just a way of getting his images out there at a slightly lower price point to make money, they were works of art that put him in line with Rembrandt and Goya.”

Richardson’s museum-like apartment in the Flatiron district, a block from Union Square, showed off a collection that was idiosyncratic, personal and lavish. “There was something about the way he could put things together,” said Benjamin Doller, the chairman of Sotheby’s, Americas, who knew Richardson, “whether it was old masters or contemporary sculpture or Picasso drawings or Warhol or the objects that he collected, the chicest mirror you could ever find, or the way he would drape a tapestry rug over a table and put Chinese objects on it.”

Image
Credit...François Halard, via Sotheby's

Sotheby’s might seem an unusual choice to sell items from Richardson’s collection, considering that he opened the New York office of its rival, Christie’s, in the 1970s. Ms. Wanger said that both houses competed for the sale but that the two grandnieces who are his heirs “just felt very strongly about Sotheby’s.”

One of the Picasso prints is “Picador et Taureau,” a 1959 linoleum cut of a bullfight. Picasso inscribed it to Richardson when he gave it to him in 1960, the year he left the south of France, where he had lived since 1952. Sotheby’s presale estimate is $25,000 to $35,000.

“Self-Portrait: Reflection” is by Freud, the figurative painter who died in 2011 at 88 (and whose grandfather was Sigmund Freud). Phoebe Hoban, the author of “Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open,” said in an email that Richardson and Freud first encountered each other at the Slade School of Fine Art at University College, London, in 1942. Sotheby’s estimated that “Self-Portrait: Reflection” would sell for $70,000 to $100,000.

Another Freud etching to be sold is a portrait of David Dawson (presale estimate, $25,000 to $35,000). Ms. Hoban said that Richardson had told her that “David was many different things to Lucian, not just a studio assistant and a primary subject, but a best friend.”

Ms. Bartow said the Warhol Jagger, inscribed by the artist “to John R,” was one of 10 in a series that was different from the famous Marilyn Monroe images. Each image of Mr. Jagger was different, unlike the Monroe set, where only the colors changed from image to image.

Ms. Bartow said Richardson would have noticed. “As a scholar who made his living through his eyes rather than just through reading things and interviewing people,” she said, “he had the intelligence to see that this was a different approach by the artist.”