Auctions Market

Sotheby’s Sells $203.6 M. of Contemporary Art in London, Led by a $32.8 M. Warhol Dollar Bill

This 1962 Warhol was the top lot of the evening.COURTESY SOTHEBY'S

This 1962 Warhol was the top lot of the evening.


Tonight in London Sotheby’s sold £130.4 million ($203.6 million) worth of art at its contemporary art auction, handily trumping the £95.6 million ($150.1 million) that its arch-rival, Christie’s, brought in at its own sale last night. About 85 percent of the lots on offer sold.

The top lot of the evening was a 1962 Andy Warhol, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate), which beat its £18 million ($28.1 million) high estimate on the way to a £20.9 million ($32.8 million) finish with buyer’s premium. (All sales prices include that premium.) The work, which had once been owned by Warhol’s manager Fred Hughes, was sold by a collector who had acquired it at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich in 1997. It was the priciest lot sold at this week’s contemporary auctions in the capital city.

The Warhol was followed close behind by two Francis Bacons, Self-Portrait (1975) and Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, which made £15.3 million ($23.9 million) and £14.7 million ($23 million) respectively. But the big pass of the evening was also a Bacon, his 1961 Study for a Pope I, which failed to sell. It had been tagged with a £15 million-to-£25 million estimate ($23.4 million to $39 million).

Another money-themed Warhol also performed well. The artist’s late Dollar Signs (1981), an array of 25 of those symbols on a teal background and some 90 inches tall, sold for £6.93 million ($10.8 million). (The sale, for the record, was, in part, loosely themed around currency and featured quite a few money-related pieces by Warhol.)

Speaking of money, a tiny painting of four eggs on a plate by Lucian Freud from 2002, which the artist gave as a gift to the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire in 2004, sold for nearly 10 times its low estimate. It was expected to sell for a minimum of £100,000 ($156,000), but made £989,000 ($1.54 million), which is about a quarter million pounds an egg, as Sotheby’s proudly noted in a mid-sale press release.

And now, finally, the major contemporary art auctions of the season are over. There are day sales tomorrow in London, but then the summer begins. The market now moves to modestly sized art fairs in locations where high-net-worth individuals vacation.

Update, July 2, 11:40 a.m.: The headline on an earlier version of this post misstated the price of the top-lot Warhol. It sold for $32.8 million.

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