On Wednesday evening, Sotheby’s staged its three-part evening sale event which included postwar American art from the collection of Texas ranching heiress Anne Marion to contemporary and Impressionist and modern art. Together the 4.5 hour sale was expected to reach $436.8 million; the final tally (final prices include the buyers’ premium; estimates do not) was $597 million. The event debuted a new David Korins-designed auction stage in New York, managed remotely by head auctioneer Oliver Barker in London. He was assisted by Sotheby’s head of jewelry Quig Bruning fielding bids on site in New York.
Between the contemporary and Impressionist and modern art sales 17 works in total were guaranteed, with four carrying irrevocable bids making up a collective low estimate of $138.5 million or 32 percent of the total low estimated value across both sales.
Warhol, Still Top Marion Collection Sale
Kicking off the evening, 14 lots from the collection of Anne Marion, sold under the title “American Visionary,” brought in a collective hammer price of $134.4 million ($157.2 million with premium), on par with the estimate of $132.8 million. A founder of the Georgia O’Keefe museum, Marion was known as a formidable philanthropist, who amassed an art collection of American postwar giants. The sale set new records for Richard Diebenkorn, Kenneth Noland and Larry Rivers.
Bidders on the phone with New York’s newly promoted contemporary art chairman, Grégoire Billault and Sotheby’s private client group Vice President, Brad Bentoff, faced off for Andy Warhol’s grey and black silkscreen painting Elvis 2 Times (1963) for several minutes. It sold for a hammer price of $32 million, well above the estimate of $20 million going to Billault’s bidder for a final price of $37 million with buyer’s premium. Diebenkorn’s nearly eight-foot-tall Ocean Park No. 40, which Marion purchased at Sotheby’s New York in May 1990 for $1.76 million, was another top lot in the sale. It came back in Wednesday night’s sale with an estimate of $20 million, hammering for $23.5 million with Sotheby’s Americas chairman Lisa Dennison’s bidder, setting a new record price for the artist. Another bidder on the phone with Dennison bought Clyfford Still, PH-125 (1948-No. 1), 1948, which Marion acquired in 1982, for a hammer of $26.5 million ($30.7 million), above the estimate of $25 million.
The third lot of the sale was Roy Lichtenstein’s surrealist-style Girl with Beach Ball II (1977), a five-foot-tall painting riffing on his earlier work by the same titled from 1961 that is now held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Documenta-exhibited work hammered at the low estimate of $12 million ($14 million with premium) going to a Hong Kong bidder on the phone with Asia’s head of contemporary art, Yuki Terase.
Bidders from Hong Kong were relatively quiet during the sale’s start but competed for Gerhard Richter’s red-orange six-foot-tall 1992 abstraction, which Marion bought in 2012 for $17 million. Here, it went for a hammer price of $20 million, soaring past the $14 million estimate. Nearing the sale’s end, Susan Rothenberg’s black double-horse painting hammered at double the $500,000 low estimate, going for a final price of $1.3 million.
Basquiat Leads Contemporary Sale, But Colescott Steals Spotlight
Two works, one by David Hockney and another by Morris Louis, were withdrawn from the contemporary art portion of the sale, moving the low estimate from the original $150 million to $140 million. All together, 31 sold lots brought the hammer price well above the expectation to $183.8 million ($214.5 million with premium). Record prices were set for Elizabeth Peyton, Salman Toor, Raymond Pettibon and Robert Colescott. When all was said and done, after moving up several records, Barker closed the white-glove sale re-assuring: “The market is back in fine form.”
Topping the contemporary art sale was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Versus Medici (1982) which sold for the first time at auction. The last recorded owner was the late Israeli Belgian collector Yaron Bruckner, the founder of Belgian retailer Eastbridge Group who died in 2013. Bruckner acquired the work in 1990 and it was presumably being sold at Sotheby’s by his heirs. Competing with the $93 million Basquiat skull painting from the collection of Valentino-cofounder Giancarlo Giammetti that sold at Christie’s on Tuesday, Versus Medici was offered at an estimate of $35 million. The guaranteed work went to a bidder on the phone with Lisa Dennison for a hammer price of $44 million, or $50.8 million with buyer’s fees. Among the other top sellers was Cy Twombly’s 1970 chalkboard painting Untitled (Rome), which had an irrevocable bid at the $35 million low estimate and hammered just above that at $36 million (or $41.6 million with premium).
The most anticipated lot of the night was Robert Colescott’s 1975 painting, George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware River: Page from an American History Textbook, a take on Emanuel Leutze’s widely-known 1852 painting of the Revolutionary War commander leading a surprise raid on Hessian soldiers. It sold for $15.3 million to American art specialist Kayla Carlsen after a 7-minute bidding battle between three clients. The Lucas Museum of Narrative art was the winning bidder ahead of its 2023 opening. The stunning result, which Barker described as the “the price of greatness,” during the bidding spar amounts to 16 times Colescott’s previous record of $912,500 set in November 2018.
The $23 million sale of Banksy’s Game Changer in London’s March sales conditioned observers to expect anything in the artist’s market. Sotheby’s added an additional wild card to the auction of Love is in the Air, by accepting cryptocurrency for the lot in addition to US Dollars. The move attracted international bidding—including an early jumped bid from $3 million to $5 million—that lasted for an extended period. It hammered at $11 million, more than three times the estimate of $3 million, going to a bidder on the phone with Jackie Wachter, who works in private sales.
Keith Haring’s 1986 untitled canvas sold for $5.8 million, against an estimate of $4 million, making it the second most expensive work by the artist to sell at auction. It is still under the $6.5 million price achieved during the controversial 2018 sale of another untitled work from 1982 sold to dealer Anatole Shagalov, whom Sotheby’s was forced to sue for full payment. George Condo’s double portrait Stockbroker (2002), which was showcased in the artist’s break out 2011 show George Condo: Mental States was sold from the collection of Colorado’s Vicki and Kent Logan, who acquired it in 2002. It went for $1.6 million, against an estimate of $1.2 million.
Bidders quickly moved the hammer price for rising star Salman Toor’s small-scale painting The Arrival (2019), depicting two men meeting at an open doorway, to $700,000, over the $60,000 estimate by a factor of 11 times. The result set a new record of $867,000, above the $822,000 paid for his 2015 Rooftop Party with Ghosts I at Christie’s in December 2020.
“It is clear that the biggest results against estimate are those artists who have either been overlooked over time and those that transact on the primary market with auction still a new place to trade their works,” said Naomi Baigell, Managing Director at TPC Art Finance, pointing to the result for Toor, whose nascent market has been booming throughout the pandemic.
Kerry James Marshall’s Untitled (Stono Drawing) sold for 528,000 against an estimate of $300,000, 12 times its 2016 purchase price of $42,500 at Wright Auctions in 2016. Elsewhere, Jeff Koon’s Pancakes (2001) sold for a loss at $867,000 against the November 2007 purchased price of $3.8 million at Sotheby’s.
$70.4 M. Monet Surpasses Expectations
Momentum slowed slightly during the last portion of the night’s sale. Thirty lots in the Impressionist and modern art auction brought in $187 million on the hammer (or $218.3 million with premium) against an estimate of $164 million with one work by Henri Matisse withdrawn. The sale had a sell-through rate of 93 percent.
Claude Monet’s Le Bassin aux Nymphéas (1917-1919), which had an irrevocable bid at $40 million, sold for a hammer price of $60 million ($70.4 million with premium) going to Grégoire Billault’s bidder. The seller purchased the work about 15 years ago at Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art sale, for $16.8 million, against an estimate of $9 million. At the time, it was being sold by Los Angeles film producer Ray Stark. The last work by Monet of this caliber to sell at auction was Meules, a landscape scene depicting haystacks, which was bought by Hasso Plattner at Sotheby’s in May 2019 for $110 million. At another point, Asian bidding buoyed a still life by Monet, which hammered for $8.8 million, double the estimate of $4 million. The final price of $10.4 million marks a solid return for the seller, who purchased it at Sotheby’s in 2002 from the Phipps estate for $3 million.
Two bidders in Hong Kong and New York battled for Picasso’s 1953 portrait of his ex-wife artist Francois Gilot. It sold for $20.9 million, against an estimate of $12 million. Another top lot was Paul Cézanne’s still-life Nature morte: pommes et poires (1888-1890), which hammered at $17 million, well below $25 million estimate, but still double the $8.7 million the seller paid for it at Sotheby’s New York in November 2003. Amedeo Modigliani’s portrait Jeune fille assise, les cheveux dénoués (Jeune fille en bleu) sold from the Nahmad collection hammered at $14 million below the $15 million low estimate, likely going to the guarantor for a final price to $16.3 million.
One major museum deaccession punctuated the evening sales at Sotheby’s. The New-York Historical Society intended to raise funds for the museum’s collections by selling Childe Hassam’s Flags on 57th Street, Winter 1918. It achieved $12.3 million, hammering below the low estimate. The result set a new auction record for the American artist. Another tepid result was achieved for a 1954 blue Joan Miro that resurfaced on the market selling for $12.6 million with premium—the seller bought it in June 2015 at Sotheby’s for $12.3 million, almost the same price.
Two works by Egon Schiele performed well. The Austrian artist’s 1911 gouache Girl Undressing last sold from the collection of Alfred Taubman for $2.9 million. Here it went for $3.8 million. Another gouache by Schiele from 1917 titled Kauernder weiblicher Akt (Crouching Female Nude) depicting a kneeling nude woman, restituted from Cologne’s Museum Ludwig to the heirs of Austrian dentist Heinrich Rieger came with a guarantee and hammered at an above estimate price for $3.3 million with Sotheby’s London Impressionist specialist Thomas Boyd-Bowman’s bidder.
Argentine-French painter Leonor Fini’s self-portrait outpaced expectations hammering at $1.8 million for a record price of $2.3 million with premium, double the estimate of $600,00. The result surpassed Fini’s previous record price of $980,000 paid for Figures on a Terrace (1928) at Sotheby’s in June 2020.