Artwork from the British Airways Collection being auctioned by Sotheby's.
George Shaw/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's
  • Artwork from British Airways is on the auction block at Sotheby's as the airline attempts to weather the industry downturn by turning to any and all means to raise funds.
  • Pieces from British artists like Bridget Riley and George Shaw hang in British Airways lounges across its network and in its headquarters near Heathrow Airport.
  • Nearly all pieces sold so far sold for higher than their estimated values with one selling for more than R40 million.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

On the auction block this month at Sotheby's in London is artwork from a high-profile, well-traveled, and frequent jet setter client, British Airways.

Britain's flag carrier is turning to the international auction house to raise cash by selling its most famous artwork featured in premium lounges and its headquarters, with some pieces boasting an estimated value of over R15 million.

The top value for the British Airways Collection was initially estimated at around R30 million, according to the combined highest values of each piece as announced by Sotheby's in a press release emailed to Business Insider, but auction results show the airline will be walking away with a lot more than that.

The sale comes following an employee recommendation on how to help stop the bleeding at the airline as its most profitable routes have been forcibly cut due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In April, the airline's parent company announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs from its flagship airline as it predicts a slow recovery in its core business model of connecting the world through European hubs.

Take a look at the British Airways Collection.

The artwork is displayed in British Airways' lounges across its international network.

British Airways

Source: British Airways


British Airways has over 30 lounges at airports around the world, typically those with high numbers of business travellers.

Nick Morrish/British Airways

Source: British Airways


The Concorde Room is the most exclusive lounge, available only in New York and London for first class passengers and select few other passengers.

British Airways

Source: British Airways


The extremely well-appointed Concorde Room spoils passengers with full meals, top-shelf alcohol, and private cabanas.

British Airways

Source: British Airways


Some pieces also reside at the British Airways headquarters near Heathrow Airport.

View Pictures/Universal Images Group/Getty

Hanging in each is British artwork from the likes of Bridget Riley, George Shaw, Damien Hurst, Marc Quinn, Peter Doig, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, and Julian Opie.

Bridget Riley/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's via email


The flagship of the collection is "Cool Edge" by Bridget Riley, with an estimated value of over R16 million. It sold for more than R40 million.

Bridget Riley/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's


Also on offer from Riley are these untitled works resembling "elongated triangles."

Bridget Riley/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's via email


Five in total were auctioned with each one having an estimated minimum value of over R80,000.

Bridget Riley/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's via email


The pieces actually pre-date British Airways with Riley creating them in 1971, three years before the UK's flag carrier was founded.

Bridget Riley/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's via email


Each of them sold for well-beyond their estimates.

Bridget Riley/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

The worst performing piece earned around R190,000 while the best performing sold for just under R220,000 after 12 bids.

Bridget Riley/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's


Here's another untitled Riley piece, valued at an estimated minimum of around R100,000 that sold for over triple that amount.

Bridget Riley/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's


George Shaw and his forest-themed work are also prominently featured, including this piece named "Scenes from the Passion: Ash Wednesday."

Artwork from the British Airways Collection being auctioned by Sotheby's.
George Shaw/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's via email


It sold over its estimate for more than R400,000 after nine bids.

George Shaw/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's


Another Shaw piece, "Scenes from the Passion: The Path In," was also featured.

George Shaw/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's


It fared slightly better than its sibling, selling for over R460,000.

George Shaw/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's


Patrick Heron and his colourful piece, "Scarlet and Bordeaux in Cobalt" from 1975, was also among the best performing pieces, selling for nearly double its estimated value.

Patrick Heron/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's


The final sale price for the piece that's almost as old as British Airways was more than R700,000 after 17 bids.

Patrick Heron/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's


Another high-performing piece was "Sunglow" by Sir Terry Frost, a more recent creation from 1991. It sold for more than R670,000 after 19 bids.

Terry Frost/The British Airways Collection/Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby's


Though the airline is taking away at least R40 million from the sale, it likely won't be enough to stop the bleeding entirely.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Airlines of similar sizes with comparable business models have reported losing some R15 million an hour due to the pandemic. If British Airways is losing the same, the auction only buys back a fraction of one day.

Other cost-cutting measures at the airline included the retirement of the Boeing 747, an iconic but ageing aircraft that will be replaced by newer jets like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350-1000 XWB.


To the airline's employees, however, the sale is likely viewed as a good faith effort to show that the airline is willing to take extraordinary measures during this unprecedented downturn for the aviation industry.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

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