Embattled British Airways looks to cash in on its art collection

Struggling airline British Airways is planning to raise more than $1 million from the sale of paintings and prints from its corporate art collection at Sotheby’s this month.

The 17 artworks will be offered in two auctions and are expected to fetch 920 000 pounds ($1.16 million) to 1.4 million pounds, Sotheby’s said Tuesday. The top lot of the group - an abstract painting by British artist Bridget Riley - will be part of Sotheby’s Rembrandt to Richter evening sale on July 28. The rest of the works will appear in an online sale of modern British art, running July 20-30.

The carrier is selling the art at the time when global airlines are reeling from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which effectively shut down air travel. The industry expects to see $84 billion in losses in 2020, the International Air Transport Association said last month. British Airways, the UK unit of IAG SA, has been “fighting for its survival,” according to IAG Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh. The company has come under fire from unions and members of Parliament over plans to eliminate 12 000 jobs, or about 30% of its staff.

“During this unprecedented time we have made the decision to work with Sotheby’s, one of the world’s leading and most trusted auction houses, to sell a number of pieces by artists including Bridget Riley and Damien Hirst,” Carolina Martinoli, British Airways’ director of brand and customer experience, said in a statement. “We are fortunate to have been able to showcase a wealth of artists and creativity through our artwork collection, many of which have been a special part of the design of our lounges worldwide.”

The most valuable painting of the group is Riley’s 1982 painting “Cool Edge,” estimated at 800 000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds. The painting belongs to the “Egyptian Series” inspired by her trip to Egypt in 1979, according to Sotheby’s. Other examples are at the Tate Collection in London and Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Among lower-priced works, estimated at 5 000 pounds to 15 000 pounds, are prints by Hirst, Marc Quinn and Julian Opie as well as Peter Doig’s “Grasshopper Portfolio,” a series of 10 etchings drawn from the ground-level perspective of a grasshopper.

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