A staple of the British contemporary art market, Bridget Riley’s artwork has seen a significant rise in popularity, including in Riley's prints and paintings on the secondary market, which have not always been as noteworthy in terms of price.
Following a series of large-scale retrospective exhibitions, her work now consistently realises millions at auction, and here we look at some of her record-breaking sales:
Initially executed in 1974, Bridget Riley’s Gala dabbles with bold colours, perfectly simulating the motion of the rippling surface of a stream. This painting represents the height of the Op Art movement and Riley’s experimentation and transition to the more visually daring.
Gala surpassed its presale estimates of £2.5-£3.5million, selling at an eye-watering £4.4million at the Modern British Art Evening Sale in Christie’s in London.
A stand-out example of British artist Bridget Riley’s visually arresting illusionist œuvre, Untitled (Diagonal Curve) (1966) smashed its price estimate (between £2.5 million and £3.5 million), realising £4,338,500 at Christie’s London in June of 2016. Performing markedly stronger than some of its straight-lined counterparts, such as Zing 2 (1971), which realised just under £3.3 million in June 2021, this dynamic, monochrome work reminds us of Riley’s position at the centre point of the Op Art movement.
Comprising a vertigo-inducing assemblage of seemingly oscillatory form, this optically challenging piece is one of the artist’s last experimentations with black and white; the next year, Riley would go on to make her first bold steps in the world of colour.
A work typical of British artist Bridget Riley’s œuvre during the ‘60s and ‘70s, Zing 2 (1971) has remained hidden from the public eye since the time of its production. Significantly outstripping its auction price estimate of £1.8 million - £2.2 million, the work realised just under £3.3 million in June 2021 at Christie’s auction house in London.
In contrast with the markedly more serpentine elements of Riley’s work, such as those vibrant paintings the artist created during the 1980s and beyond, Riley’s use of colour appears somewhat muted. Ever present, however, is the artist’s highly technical, semi-illusionist approach to geometric form – a hallmark of the so-called Op Art movement.
Painted in 1967, the year in which British artist Bridget Riley began creating artworks with colour, Chant 2 is a bold work that was first shown at the Venice Biennale in 1968. A conceptual bridge between the artist’s previous experiments with dizzying, optically activated monochrome works, it realised over £2.8 million in February of 2014 at Christie’s auction house in London. A rare example of Riley’s early œuvre, the piece was previously housed in the collection of German art collectors Alfred and Elisabeth Hoh, a pair well-known for their large portfolio of 20th-century European paintings and prints.
But Chant 2 was no novice to the astounding prices of the art market. Prior to the Christie's sale, the work had already been presented at auction in 2008, when it sold at Sotheby's London for over £2.5 million – a true guarantee mark of Riley's popularity and brilliance.
Orphean Elegy 7 (1979) combines two hallmarks of British artist Bridget Riley’s semi-illusionist œuvre: bold, tessellating linear forms and bright complementary (and clashing) colours. Smashing its sale estimate of £1.5 million - £2 million the work realised over £2.8 million in October of 2019.
A kaleidoscopic and rhythmic painting first created in 1979, the seemingly kinetic Orphean Elegy 7 is testament to Riley’s abandonment of simple verticality and adoption of the ‘curve’ during the latter part of the 1960s; known initially for her sustained experimentation with monochrome during this period, Op Art proponent Riley went on to become internationally-regarded for her chromatic work, which some described as ‘vertigo’ inducing.
Are those lines straight? Or are they slanted? When confronted with the varyingly dizzying and dazzling Shift (1963) it is easy to see why it has often been remarked that no painter, alive or dead, has made us so aware of our eyes as British ‘Op’ Artist Bridget Riley. Sold for a similarly glittering £2.7 million at Sotheby’s, London in February 2020, Shift is testament to the force of Riley’s early monochrome works, as hard-hitting today as they were almost 60 years ago. Characteristic of the artist’s early aversions to colour, Shift possesses an unparalleled sense of dynamism.
Halcyon 2 (1972) is characteristic of British ‘Op’ Artist Bridget Riley’s first interventions into the optically rich and tantalisingly bold sphere of colour. Product of her stepping outside of a previously monochromatic world, the painting is characteristic of an important phase in Riley’s career. Going above and beyond its sale estimate in October 2021, this fact was apparently clear to Halcyon 2’s latest owner, who snapped up for the princely sum of £2.6 million at Christie’s in London. Previously the property of Galerie Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland, the work is testament to its creator’s close attention to graphic detail.
Created in 1972, Tinct beautifully marks Riley’s embrace of colour in her optic experiments. Dominated by tones of lilac, aquamarine and yellow, this painting starkly departs from the early monochromatic tones that defined Riley’s work in the 1960s. The painting was publicly exhibited for the first time in February 1975, when Galerie Beyeler organised one of the most important Riley exhibitions in Europe to date.
After remaining in the same private collection for 30 years, the painting surfaced on the market in 2022, when it was sold by Sotheby’s for £2,334,000 on 29 June.
A foremost example of Bridget Riley’s oeuvre, Gaillard (1989), is a lively and effervescent work that was purchased in February 2020 for almost £2.3 million at Christie’s auction house in London. The kaleidoscopic energy posed by the painting’s exploration of hard-edged form, is a testament to it’s record breaking sale price, breaking the upper bound of its sale estimate by £291,000. Although markedly different from the artist’s vertigo-inducing monochromatic works from the 1960s, Gaillard remains fundamentally concerned with vision. Its assortment of coloured rhomboids – or ‘zigs’, as the artist calls them – induce a variety of optical effects in the spectator.
On 23 March 2021, Bridget Riley’s brightly coloured painting Cupid’s Quiver (1985) sold at Christie’s auction house in London for £2.2 million. This work is a central example of this decisive turning point in Riley’s career. Inspired by a trip to Egypt, the 1980s saw Riley, leading proponent of the so-called ‘Op Art’ movement, experiment more liberally with colour. Replicating the bright colours of hieroglyphic painting, the British artist moved away from her sustained interrogation of monochromatic form in favour of a chromatic palette that evoked multi-sensorial memories of her travels. Comprising the meticulous arrangement of vertical lines of colour, Cupid’s Quiver recalls a kaleidoscope of naturally occurring shades and hues.
Product of a seminal trip Bridget Riley took to Egypt in the early 1980s, Cool Edge is saturated with a variety of intense hues which range from coral and yellow to violet and aquamarine: key colours that the artist refers to as her ‘Egyptian palette’. Much like Cupid’s Quiver, a later painting Riley produced in 1985, this piece combines compositional simplicity with a colour-based approach. In March 2021, Cool Edge realised the impressive sum of nearly £1.9 million at Christie’s auction house in London.