Sotheby's first raunchy auction: Erotic: Passion & Desire sale to feature explicit paintings, photographs and sculptures

This saucy sale includes explicit paintings, photographs, sculptures and artefacts dating from the 1st century AD, with reserve prices starting at £200...

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Pre-sale exhibition opens February 11 at Sotheby’s New Bond Street Galleries. The auction will be held on February 16.

Auction house Sotheby’s is holding its first ever sale of erotic art.

Erotic: Passion & Desire is an at-times very raunchy romp through the history of eroticism. As you wander the pre-sale exhibition of explicit paintings, photographs, sculptures and artefacts, it becomes clear there is little new on today’s erotica menu.

For those seeking instruction, all manner of intimate acts are depicted on anything that can be designed, carved, embellished or viewed. Unsurprisingly, a great many items are listed anonymously as “Property of a Gentleman” with no further clue as to their sellers.

The lots date from the 1st century AD, with reserve prices starting at £200. Artists whose work can be seen include Antony Gormley, Ettore Sottsass, Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Egon Schiele, Lucian Freud and Picasso.


La Grande Névrose (c1896), a sculpture so beloved by the artist, Jacques Loysel, that he refused all offers to sell it during his lifetime, has been in the same collection since 1925 and this is its first time on the market. The “névrose” or neurosis of the title is likened to hysteria, or the loss of control — which was considered both consequence and punishment for the excesses of that time. Influenced by Rodin and carved by hand, the reserve for this sculpture starts at £120,000.

£180,000: Akt (Nude), from 1917. Artist Egon Schiele died aged 27 a year later

Among works by Egon Schiele in the sale is Akt (Nude), estimated to fetch £180,000. This prime example of the great Austrian artist’s work was completed at the age of 27, only a year before his death in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.

Also on view is a portfolio of nude studies by Aristide Maillol, with a reserve price of £8,000. Gently romantic — unlike many of the lots in this sale — the 43 sketches are in pencil, coloured crayon and watercolour, and the present of these, along with perhaps a trip to the Maillol museum in Paris, would make for a memorable Valentine’s Day.

Something to wear to surprise the in-laws would certainly be lot 70, a figural necklace, made up of amorous couples and certain parts of the anatomy. Winged Eros is holding a torch, while another figure is entwined with a mythical sea creature. From £5,000.

Or you could simply pull out one of a clutch of snuffboxes at Sunday lunch, with raunchy depictions from the mid-18th century — and reserve prices from £1,000.

ROWAN PELLING, who edited the Erotic Review, writes in her catalogue introduction to the show: “There’s wit at play here, too: hence the pin-up and Pop Art in the sale, reminding us that it’s vital to laugh at what is most serious in life.”

Do take a look at Mel Ramos’s advertising lithographs (from £5,000 to £7,000) promoting tobacco, Coca-Cola, ketchup and spark plugs, and Zoë Mozert’s Beauty by Night (reserve £1,500). One of the few female artists featured, Mozert often posed for her own work.

DON’T MISS this copy of Catherine the Great’s bedside table.

Reserve price £15,000: copy of Catherine the Great’s bedside table

The original was destroyed in a fire, but photographs of it were taken in 1941 by Wehrmacht soldiers and still exist. According to some sources, the cabinet was placed in the Russian empress’s private apartments at Gatchina Palace, while according to others, the table stood in one of the palaces of Tsarskoe Selo, on the outskirts of St Petersburg. The reserve price is £15,000.

If beds could talk, then le Lit de la Païva would have tales to tell. Originally commissioned by one of the most talented and upwardly mobile of 19th-century French courtesans, this “bateau-lit” was never installed in her hotel particulier at 25 Champs-Élysées.

The self-styled Marquise de Païva was not only a legendary “grande horizontale”, but noted art patron, whose parties were attended by Flaubert, Zola and Delacroix and who never actually “entertained” in this swan- and mermaid-encrusted bed. Rushing to leave France due to the Franco-Prussian war, the bed found its way to one of the most celebrated brothels of the time, La Fleur Blanche.

Paintings of the brothel exist due to Toulouse-Lautrec who set up his easel at the brothel (not a metaphor), and once brothels were declared illegal in France at the end of the Second World War, the bed was sold at auction.

Unusually made of Cuban mahogany, for the lavishness of the wood, the bed is considered the star lot of the sale, with the reserve starting at £500,000.

Pre-sale exhibition opens February 11 at Sotheby’s New Bond Street Galleries. The auction will be held on February 16.

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