ART+, all about the art market
September 2022 1807 

The Czech Avant-garde in London

Roy and Mary Cullen Collection at auction

After the recent death of the philanthropist and collector Roy Cullen, it was to be expected that some of his art collections would soon appear on the market. Therefore, it was no surprise that Sotheby’s announced that on 12 November, it would be organising the auction of one such collection, the inter-war Czech avant-garde, collected by Roy and Mary Cullen over the past twenty-five years.

Karel Teige: Untitled / 1947 fotomontage / 38 x 29 cm /  Estimate: 50–70 000 GBP Karel Teige: Untitled / 1947
fotomontage / 38 x 29 cm / 
Estimate: 50–70 000 GBP


Completely unique works by the Czech avant-garde are thus entering the market and one can expect a high level of interest, especially from Czech buyers who could try to bring the works back to their country of origin.

The auction’s attractions include works by Toyen, especially the oil on canvas The Message of the Forest from 1936. An owl is depicted on an abstract background reminiscent of some natural texture and is forebodingly holding a girl’s head in its talons without obvious emotion. The price of this top work is estimated at 700,000 to 1 million pounds, i.e. at CZK 25–35 million (excluding commission and additional fees). If the work is sold within this price range, it will become the artist’s new auction record. Her most expensive work so far is the painting Sleeping from 1937, which was auctioned in 2009 for CZK 20 million by Galerie Pictura in Prague (CZK 23.3 million including commission).

Another important work by this painter to be auctioned in London is a portrait from 1950 of the French poet and surrealist theoretician André Breton. It was created using mixed media on linen. A strict, geometric drawing of three triangles is balanced by an almost romantically executed profile of Breton and attributes of the four elements of nature.

Toyen: Portrait of André Breton / 1950  crayon, charcoal, oil, glitter on linen / 46 x 64 cm / Estimate: 120–180 000 GBP / Sotheby’s 12. 11. 2014 Toyen: Portrait of André Breton / 1950 
crayon, charcoal, oil, glitter on linen / 46 x 64 cm / Estimate: 120–180 000 GBP / Sotheby’s 12. 11. 2014


The auction will offer other oil paintings, for instance Roots by Jindřich Štyrský, whose maximum estimate is GBP 250,000, i.e. almost CZK 9 million. Last year, Galerie Kodl in Prague auctioned a different painting with the same motif for the same final price (excluding auction commission).

The collection is complemented by works done in a specific technique whose originality, however, can boldly compete with the aforementioned paintings, be they Štyrský’s collages, Jindřich Heisler’s photomontages, or art books. Books make up a separate category, dominated by Vítězslav Nezval’s poetry collection Alphabet with typographic illustrations by Karel Teige.

Last but not least, worthy of mention is one of the ten photomontages Jindřich Štyrský used to accompany one of the most important Czech art books of the 20th century, Emilie Comes to Me in a Dream. The estimate is quite bold: GBP 40,000–60,000, i.e. up to CZK 2.1 million.

Overall, some 120 items will be auctioned in London for a total estimated price of GBP 1.7 million. Several years after the auction of the Hascoe Collection, this is another exceptional opportunity to acquire works that do not frequently appear on the market. The aforementioned auction was a big success in 2011, and one cannot but wait to see what interest Czech art will attract this time.


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