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$27.5M Bacon Buoys Christie’s Spectacular Postwar Auction

Christie’s auction of postwar and contemporary art on Feb. 8 far exceeded its £40 million presale estimate to realize £70 million ($138.4 million). In the most bullish performance of the week, just two of the 84 lots offered were unsold, and 85 percent of the lots sold did so above their estimates. The total was

LONDON—Christie’s auction of postwar and contemporary art on Feb. 8 far exceeded its £40 million presale estimate to realize £70 million ($138.4 million). In the most bullish performance of the week, just two of the 84 lots offered were unsold, and 85 percent of the lots sold did so above their estimates. The total was the highest for a contemporary sale in Europe; only Christie’s last three New York sales have made more.

The top lot of the sale, and of the whole week, was Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait II, 1956, which had come from the collection of Italian film star Sophia Loren (ANL, 2/6/07). Estimated to fetch £12 million, it was sold to the Richard Gray Gallery, New York, for £14 million. In dollar terms ($27.55 million) it just exceeded the price for the Willem de Kooning Untitled XXV, which set an auction record ($27.1 million) at Christie’s last November for any work of art made since World War II. In pounds sterling however, the positions are reversed.

American postwar art claimed six of the top ten prices, three by Andy Warhol. Christie’s has had a large dollar sign in three consecutive London sales now, and the latest consignment, Dollar Sign, 1981, brought a mid-estimate £1.98 million ($3.9 million) from art adviser Hugues Joffre. Three Women, 1963, last sold in 2000 for £421,000, now brought £4.4 million ($8.7 million) from dealer Christophe van de Weghe. One of the series of eight silk screens of Brigitte Bardot, 1974, surprised onlookers as what appeared to be French competition drove the price to a triple-estimate £5.4 million ($10.6 million) bid handled by Christie’s Paris specialist Florence de Botton.

Another important American work was Dan Flavin’s “Monument” for V, Tatlin, 1967, recently acquired from London’s Haunch of Venison exhibition by a collector in California, which sold to Daniella Luxembourg for a record £412,000 ($809,000). The work was the only completed version from a proposed edition of five.

Postwar European works, led by the Bacon, were followed by an early Sigmar Polke, Strand, 1966, from the collection of the Duke of Bavaria, which sold for a record £2.7 million, or $5.3 million (estimate: £800,000/1.2 million) and is destined, sources say, for a European museum collection.

Four works in the top ten lots were from the collection of Italian businessman Riccardo Tettamanti (1924-2005). Because he seldom, if ever, loaned his artworks, most had not been seen since their acquisition, thereby heightening interest.

Among the American works was a 1968 Mark Rothko picture, Untitled (Black, Red, Black on Brown), which set a record for a work on paper by the artist when it fetched £3.4 million, or $6.6 million (estimate: £1/1.5 million), from the European trade; and a Cy Twombly picture, Capitoli, 1962, which sold for £2.15 million, or $4.2 million (estimate: £1/1.5 million), to the Gallery Seomi, Seoul, which outbid dealer David Nahmad.

Other postwar American works from the Tettamanti collection: a small early Jim Dine, Flesh Tie, 1961, which sold for £138,000, or $271,200 (estimate: £40,000/60,000), to Italian dealer, Giulio Tega; and the tiny 1960s work VIIP! by Roy Lichtenstein, which went to the Gagosian Gallery for £580,000, or $1.1 million (estimate: £250,000/350,000).

Additionally, Sacco e Rosso, 1959, a rare sack work by Alberto Burri, fell for a record £1.9 million ($3.7 million) to a private Italian collector; an installation of photographs and neon numbers, 1972, by Mario Merz, earned £311,200 ($611,000) from Joffre; and Mappa, 1978, by Alighiero Boetti, went to dealer Benjamin Brown for £300,000 ($590,000).

More contemporary works from the Tettamanti collection also performed well. A large, untitled 1983 tarpaulin painting by Keith Haring fetched a record £512,800 ($1 million); Anselm Kiefer’s landscape Last Tausend blumen blühen!, 1999, sold for a triple-estimate record of £1.8 million ($3.5 million) to the young Georgian collector who had purchased Peter Doig’s White Canoe at Sotheby’s (p. 4).The same collector alsoacquired Bodegon avec protozaires . . ., 2003, by Miquel Barceló, at Christie’s for £378,400 ($743,550).

Though not designated in the catalogue, Charles Saatchi was again among the sellers: Albert Oehlen’s Interior, 1998, realized £132,000 ($259,380); Thomas Scheibitz’s Anlage, 2000, went for £144,000 ($283,000) to Portuguese dealer Victor Pires-Vieira;and Michael Raedecker’s Frisson, 1997, won a record £138,000 ($271,200).

One surprise was the rapid rise in prices for British painter Frank Auerbach, whose large landscape To the Studios II, 1977-78, fell to dealer Ivor Braka for £1.25 million ($2.5 million).

Other purchases at the sale were made by New York dealer Edward Tyler Nahem, who bought Boetti’s Tutto, 1988-89, against Joffre, for £276,000 ($542,300); London dealer John Austin, who bought Eduardo Chillida’s Lura XXXIII, 1979, for £378,400 ($743,556); and Pires-Vieira, who snagged an early Paula Rego Untitled, 1967, for £240,000 ($471,600).

The buyer breakdown: European (including Russian), 40% of the lots; U.S., 32%; United Kingdom, 23%; and Asia, 5%. Only 15% of the lots were sent for sale from the U.S., the majority coming from within Europe.

Christie’s Pilar Ordovás, head of the postwar and contemporary art department, attributed the high rate of sales that were over-estimate to the quantity and quality of work from private collections, such as the Tettamanti trove, adding that the works were reasonably estimated.

By the end of Christie’s Part Two auction, the company had chalked up £199.8 million ($392 million) in sales during the week—a 41 percent increase over equivalent sales last June. It is notable, however, that lot numbers also increased by 27 percent, from 732 offered last June to 1,020.

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