The spectacular art collection quietly assembled by David Bowie – including works by Damien Hirst and Henry Moore – is to go on display for the first time before being auctioned.
The whole collection, including more than 100 pieces of furniture reflecting his interest in all aspects of design, is expected to raise more than £10m at the sale in November, but given the obsessive devotion of many Bowie fans, could well go higher.
The singer, who died in January, studied art and design at technical college and once confessed to buying art “obsessively and addictively”, but the scale of the addiction had not been realised. His family say they are selling because they have not got the space to keep the collection.
Bowie bought the works quietly and privately, often through direct contact with the artists – including seven large monochrome paintings he bought from John Virtue, who was surprised to get a phone call asking if Bowie could come for a look at his studio – for pleasure and not for investment.
Oliver Barker, the chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, called Bowie a creator as great as any of the names in his collection. “Eclectic, unscripted, understated: David Bowie’s collection offers a unique insight into the personal world of one of the 20th century’s greatest creative spirits.”
The collection is particularly rich in 20th-century British art, including two brilliantly coloured “spin” paintings by Hirst, and works by Frank Auerbach, Stanley Spencer, Patrick Caulfield, Peter Lanyon, and Graham Sutherland. He once said of Auerbach’s densely worked, almost sculptural paintings: “My God, yeah. I want to sound like that looks.” He lent – anonymously – a key work, a portrait of Auerbach’s cousin Gerda, to the major retrospective on the artist in 2001.
The collection will be seen by the public for the first time when it is exhibited for 10 days by Sotheby’s, after highlights are sent on tour to Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong, before the three-day sale in November.
Bowie’s interest in art went well beyond collecting the fashionable artists of his day. He painted and was fascinated by art and design throughout his career, taking a close interest in the visual presentation of his work, from his stage costumes and album covers to videos, including those made for his last singles and album months before his death.
He was invited to join the editorial board of the journal Modern Painters in 1998, and turned interviewer for them, recording meetings with artists including Jeff Koons, Hirst and Tracey Emin. He met Andy Warhol many times and played the artist in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 biopic of Basquiat.
Bowie was also part of a famous art-world hoax, the celebration of the fabulous talent and tragic fate of the artist Nat Tate. He hosted a spectacular party at Koons’s Manhattan studio for the launch of a book on Tate – where many of the guests were too embarrassed to admit they had never heard of the artist, which was not surprising since he was a wholly fictional character, invented by Bowie’s friend the novelist William Boyd.
The collection includes paintings from the St Ives school, and by early and mid-20th-century British artists, including the quiet, sad suburban paintings of Harold Gilman, as well as Leon Kossoff and David Bomberg, artists whose work was out of fashion when Bowie was buying.
Simon Hucker, the senior specialist in modern & postwar British art at Sotheby’s, said Bowie bought the work of artists with whom he felt a personal connection, and which moved and inspired him: “This is what led him to British art of the early and mid-20th century in particular, which, of course, also led him home.”
The three-day sale will feature paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculpture, including contemporary African pieces and Outsider art – works by those from outside the conventional arts world such as the “Gugging Group”, patients at the Gugging psychiatric clinic in Vienna which became renowned for the creativity of many treated there, and its therapeutic work with art.
It will also include Air Power, a major graffiti painting by the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which alone is estimated by Sotheby’s to be worth up to £3.5m.
The furniture includes pieces by the influential design collective Memphis Milano.
A spokesman for Bowie’s estate said: “David’s art collection was fuelled by personal interest and compiled out of passion. He always sought and encouraged loans from the collection and enjoyed sharing the works in his custody.
“Though his family are keeping certain pieces of particular personal significance, it is now time to give others the opportunity to appreciate – and acquire – the art and objects he so admired.”
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