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Looking Back | Phillips X Maak | The Art of Fire


A week on from the staggering results of the Phillips X Maak auction The Art of Fire: Selections from the Dr John P. Driscoll Collection, and with the latest Maak Modern + Contemporary Ceramics Auction now viewing online, we thought we might take a moment to reflect on the highlights and look forwards to what is to come.

For those who may have missed it, this first selection from the collection of the late Dr John Driscoll was presented by Phillips in association with Maak Contemporary Ceramics on 10th November in London. Billed as the most important collection of contemporary ceramics to ever come to auction, it totalled £6,350,482, exceeding the pre-sale high estimate by 228% and setting 28 World Auction Records.

This was a collection like no other, remarkable for the depth in which Driscoll represented such a broad range of artists. What captivated Driscoll, and in turn the many international bidders competing in the sale, was the 'famous' pots, the pots with the exceptional provenance and the stories to tell. Most significantly though, and as highlighted by Ben Williams, International Ceramics Consultant for Phillips, "These are the 'famous' pots, the ones that appeared in the books and exhibitions that helped launch a movement." These pots are the ones Driscoll sought out and, in turn, captivated the many international bidders competing to be a part of this historic sale.

The sale saw the world record for Hans Coper broken multiple times during the auction, once in a fifteen-minute bidding war for Lot 10, his famous Monumental 'Writhlington School' Pot - or the 'Goat Pot' as it is affectionately known - which achieved seven times the low estimate, and again with Lot 82, the Monumental Ovoid Pot, selling for £651,700 as the top lot of the sale.

Another record-breaking highlight of the sale was Lot 8, the 'Aeroplane Waterpot' by the celebrated Nigerian potter Ladi Kwali.  This unique work sparked a bidding war that pushed the final price to £132,300 - over ten times the previous artist record.

The highest prices of the sale were realised for works by the acknowledged 'Masters' of British Studio Ceramics Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper. However, records were broken for artists across the spectrum of the movement, from the 'Traditionalist' Bernard Leach, Michael Cardew, David Leach, Janet Leach and Richard Batterham to post-war and contemporary artists James Tower, Ian Godfrey, Angus Suttie, Alison Britton, Richard Slee and Akiko Hirai, amongst many others.

The record-breaking prices achieved in this sale are a testament to John Driscoll's exceptional eye and deep understanding of studio ceramics. Driscoll considered ceramics to provide a vehicle for artistic expression equal to painting and sculpture and, based on the results of this sale, it would seem that increasingly collectors would agree.

Whilst the prestige of a single-owner sale of such unique quality will inevitably fuel unprecedented levels of interest, what will be interesting to see over the coming months and years is whether this marks a turning point, a re-evaluation of the cultural significance of studio ceramics.

We look forward to seeing you online and in our new gallery for the Modern + Contemporary Ceramics auction from 29 November - 2 December.


Further selections from the Dr John P Driscoll Collection will be offered by Maak over the course of 2022 and 2023.

Images courtesy of Phillips

© Maak London Ltd 2021