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Midmarket London Auction Meets Expectations

Christie’s held a warm-up contemporary art sale for the new season at its South Kensington branch on Sept. 16 and sold 132 lots, or 68 percent, of 194 lots on offer—including most of the higher-valued lots—realizing a total of £2 million ($3.1 million), compared with an estimate of £1.7 million/2.4 million.

LONDON—Christie’s held a warm-up contemporary art sale for the new season at its South Kensington branch on Sept. 16 and sold 132 lots, or 68 percent, of 194 lots on offer—including most of the higher-valued lots—realizing a total of £2 million ($3.1 million), compared with an estimate of £1.7 million/2.4 million.

The top price was £217,250 ($339,127) compared with a £50,000/70,000 estimate, for a heart-shaped butterfly painting, Untitled (Birthday Card Suite), 1999, by Damien Hirst, bought by a European collector on the phone. The painting had last been sold at Sotheby’s, London in February 2005 for £198,400 ($376,960), but this price should not be construed as a sign that Hirst prices have retreated five years.

The painting had since received some damage from surface craquelure to the pink gloss paint in two areas, and thus it bore a much lower estimate. Damaged gloss paint can be more problematic to conservators than oil paint, but several bidders clearly felt the painting could be restored.

Der Tod und das Madchen (Death and the Girl), 1999, a painting by Austrian artist Maria Lassnig, carried the highest estimate of the sale, £100,000/150,000, and sold for £181,250 ($282,931), the second-highest auction price for the 91-year-old artist, to a private collector.

A notable price was also achieved for a drawing by British artist Jenny Saville, whose very recent Mother and Child (after the Leonardo Cartoon), 2009, sold for £157,250 ($244,584) compared with an estimate of £100,000/150,000); the price was much in line with drawings from the same series that had recently been shown at the Gagosian Gallery in London. The drawing had been acquired by the seller at the New York Academy of Art’s charity sale in October 2009 for an undisclosed price.

Also performing well in the sale were works from the collection of E.J. Power, a former trustee of the Tate Gallery, and a supporter of young artists working in the ’60s and ’70s, a time when such support was not so fashionable in the United Kingdom.

An early mirrored sculpture Untitled (Profile of Edward Power), 1975–80, by Barry Flanagan, sold for £16,250 ($25,275) against an estimate of £1,000/1,500, and Alcools, 1957, by CoBRA artist Asger Jorn, sold for £181,250 ($282,931) against an estimate of £80,000/120,0000.

Although it had not indicated as much in the catalogue, Christie’s posted a saleroom notice stating that it had a financial interest in several lots. Some of these were by artists who had been exhibited by Haunch of Venison, a subsidiary of Christie’s, or sold by Blains Fine Art, the gallery previously run by Haunch of Venison founder Harry Blain (who recently parted company with the gallery).

Gary Hume’s screen prints Spring Angels, 2000, had been acquired from Blains, according to the catalogue, and sold below estimate at £3,750 ($5,833) compared with expectations of £8,000/12,000. Two photographs by Zarina Bhimji, represented by Haunch of Venison at the time of her Turner Prize exhibition in 2007, also sold far below estimates at £1,000 ($1,555), compared with an estimate of £4,000/6,000 and £1,875 ($2,916) against an estimate of £4,000/6,000.

A video installation by Diana Thater, Perpetual Motion Two, 2005, shown at Haunch of Venison five years ago, was her first work at auction and won a much more respectable £49,250 ($76,603) from a phone bidder (estimate: £20,000/30,000). Christie’s would not comment on the circumstances of these sales or whether it had acquired a financial interest through its association with Blain and Haunch of Venison.

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