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Fifteen Records Fall at Christie’s $147M Contemporary Auction

Several critical voices were heard after Christie’s raised the number of lots for its postwar and contemporary evening sale on June 20, from 78 a year-ago June and 84 in February to 101. But the policy at least produced a U.K. record of £74 million ($147 million) for a sale in this category, just above

LONDON—Several critical voices were heard after Christie’s raised the number of lots for its postwar and contemporary evening sale on June 20, from 78 a year-ago June and 84 in February to 101. But the policy at least produced a U.K. record of £74 million ($147 million) for a sale in this category, just above the previous £70.4 million ($138.4 million) in February (ANL, 2/20/07).

The top lot was Lucian Freud’s 1992 full-length portrait of the writer Bruce Bernard (estimate: £4.5/5.5 million), which went to an anonymous buyer for £7.8 million ($15.6 million)—a record for the artist and for any living European artist. One of 19 figurative art pieces by School of London painters offered by U.S. collectors Elaine and Melvin Merians and guaranteed by Christie’s, the collection fetched £16.8 million ($33.4 million) with premium, against a combined low estimate of £13.4 million without premium.

Not far behind the Freud was Francis Bacon’s Two Men Working in a Field, 1971 (estimate: £5/7 million), which brought a disappointing £5 million from an Asian buyer. But a stream of record prices from the collection followed. Paula Rego’s Moth, 1994 (estimate: £250,000/350,000), sold to Marlborough Fine Art, London, for £378,400 ($752,000); Michael Andrews’ landscape Sax A.D. 832—Second Painting, 1983 (estimate: £600,000/800,000), went to dealer Ivor Braka for £692,000 ($1.4 million); and R.B. Kitaj’s Greenwich Village, 1990-93 (estimate: £150,000/200,000), brought £288,000 ($572,544).

Other records fell for artists whose work normally would have been sold in a British art sale—John Wonnacott (£54,000, or $107,350); Christopher Bramham (£74,400, or $150,000); and Craigie Aitchison (£108,000 or $214,000). The only hiccup for the Merians was the failure to sell of Frank Auerbach’s large oil-on-canvas Tree in Mornington Crescent, 1991-92, which carried the highest estimate ever for Auerbach at £1/1.5 million.

Still, several smaller Auerbachs from other sources, and with more moderate estimates, fare well—notably the richly colored Primrose Hill Study—Autumn Evening, 1979 (estimate: £350,000/550,000), which was won by dealer Doris Ammann for £860,000 ($1.9 million).

The sale saw several American Pop art works offered from U.S. collections. Andy Warhol’s Three Marilyns, 1962, attracted only one bid, selling for a mid-estimate £5.6 million ($11.2 million); and three of his later works, notably Brigitte Bardot, 1974 (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million), were bought in.

Nonetheless, a small Jackie, 1964, sold well over its £500,000 high estimate to the Asian trade for £1.4 million ($2.8 million); and a small “fright wig” Self Portrait, 1986, doubled estimates to take £1.4 million ($2.7 million).

A small, but brilliant group of postwar European works by Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni, from the estate of Rosemarie Delil, took off, with Manzoni’s pleated-canvas Achrome, 1958-59 (estimate: £400,000/600,000), selling to a private U.K. buyer against the private dealership of Eykyn Maclean, headed by Christie’s former Impressionist and modern art department heads Christopher Eykyn and Nicholas Maclean, for a record £2.1 million ($4.3 million).

Another group of works, from the collection of designer Ernesto Esposito, met with mixed reception. The two main lots—Warhol’s Vesuvius, 1985 (estimate: £1/1.5 million), and Mel Ramos’ Miss American Legion, 1964 (estimate: £500,000/800,000)—failed to find buyers.

Young Artists Stand Out

Younger artists got off to a good start with 18 works from the CAP Collection, formed by investment banker and duty-free shops magnate Anthony Pilaro, which made £6.6 million ($13.1 million) and saw several records tumble. Among these was Kara Walker’s cutout Untitled (Girl with Bucket), 1998 (estimate: £40,000/60,000), which brought £180,000 ($358,000); Thomas Schütte’s combined aluminum sculptures Grosse Geister No. 9 and No. 14, 1997 and 1998, respectively (estimate: £200,000/400,000), which sold for £1.4 million ($2.3 million) to a phone bidder against the Mugrabi family; Christopher Wool’s painting Untitled, 1991 (estimate: £500,000/700,000), which was won by collector Peter Brant for £916,000 ($1.8 million); and Rosemarie Trockel’s knitted-wool canvas Untitled (Rorschach test), 1993 (estimate: £80,000/120,000), which ended up with Andrew Renton of the London-based Cranston Collection for £252,000 ($501,000).

Although unannounced in the catalogue, Charles Saatchi was also among the sellers, offering mainly German art from his “Triumph of Painting” exhibitions: A large 1987 canvas by Jörg Immendorf, Contemplating the Question—Where do I stand…. (estimate: £180,000/220,000), took £216,000 ($429,000); and Albert Oehlen’s Untitled, 1990 (estimate: £120,000/180,000), made £180,000 ($358,000). But Franz Ackermann’s Zooropa, 2001, which Saatchi had bought for £198,000 in 2004, failed to sell (estimate: £120,000/180,000).

Christie’s calculated the buyer activity in the sale, broken down by lot, as U.K., 25%; the rest of Europe, 37%; U.S., 27%; Asia, 10%; and the Middle East, 1%.

Sugimoto Photo Flies Past Estimate

Among other buyers in the room were art adviser Abigail Asher, who bought Hiroshi Sugimoto’s North Pacific Ocean, Ohkurosaki, 2000 (estimate: £200,000/300,000), for £457,000 ($908,000); U.K. dealer Timothy Taylor, who acquired Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Box, 1986 (estimate: £250,000/350,000), for £378,600 ($752,000); and Bridget Riley’s Orphean Elegy 5, 1979 (estimate: £350,000/450,000), for £445,600 ($886,000).

The Mugrabi family won Warhol’s Four Foot Flowers, 1964 (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million), for £2.6 million ($5.2 million), and Wool’s word painting Untitled (F48), 1992 (estimate: £200,000/300,000), for £333,600).

Swiss dealer Doris Ammann acquired Bacon’s early Landscape with Car, 1945-6 (estimate: £4/5 million), for £4.3 million ($8.5 million); and New York dealer Tony Shafrazi took Peter Blake’s Giant, 1984 (estimate: £30,000/40,000), for £60,000 ($119,000).

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