Ben Nicholson's Oct 61 brings $1.6m to Sotheby's auction

Ben Nicholson's Oct 61 (Mycenae-axe-blue) has seen the highest bids at Sotheby's Modern & Post-War British Art auction in London, continuing strong demand for top British artists this summer.

Ben Nicholson Oct 61 Mycenae-axe-blue
The painting is on a similar scale to Nicholson's celebrated Festival of Britian Mural 1951

The auction took place on July 11-12 in London, with Nicholson's masterpiece selling for £1m ($1.6m) against a £1m-1.6m estimate. It is the largest Nicholson work ever sold at auction.

Sotheby's has witnessed the enduring appeal of the most celebrated British artists this auction season, with 69.6% of works selling at or above high estimate in its modern, contemporary and post-war sales.

Particularly popular on the current market is the work of Barbara Hepworth, with the world record for the artist set at Christie's on July 11.

Nicholson stands alongside the likes of Hepworth and Henry Moore at the forefront of the British avant-garde. This work hails from the period that Nicholson has described as the "Indian summer" of his career, during a time when he was living and working in Switzerland.

It provided the centrepiece of the Tate's celebrated 1964 exhibition Painting & Sculpture of a Decade 54-64. Measuring 4 ½m across, it is on a similar scale to Nicholson's famous Festival of Britain Mural 1951, a monumental work that is currently undergoing repairs.

This is the first time the piece has appeared at auction, having been purchased in New York in 1966 by industrialist Joseph Irwin Miller, who donated it to the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

Profits from the sale will now benefit the organisation's programmes relating to religion and the arts.

The auction record for Nicholson's work was set in 2012, when Violon et guitar (1933) sold for $4.2m at Christie's.

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