After a strong night at Sotheby’s on Tuesday, the London contemporary sales continued this week with a £79.3 million ($104.6 million) evening sale at Christie’s that saw 38 of 41 lots sell, for a taut sell-through rate of about 93 percent.
The most anticipated lot of the sale was David Hockney’s Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969), picturing the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art curator seated on a pink sofa, by which his then boyfriend stands in a trench coat, which made £37.6 million ($49.5 million) with buyer’s premium.
Bidding began at £27 million and steadily rose by £1 million increments as a handful of bidders competed for the piece. It hammered without too much drama at £33 million, and earned some light applause from the room.
The work had carried an on-request estimate that was said to be above £30 million (about $39.5 million). The seller was the estate of the late collector Barney A. Ebsworth, whose formidable collection, predominantly of American modernism, has been handled by Christie’s over the past few months. (Last November, it hosted a special evening sale that saw a new $91.9 million record for Edward Hopper, in addition to 12 other artist records.)
Ebsworth acquired the Hockney in 1997 from New York dealership Mitchell-Innes & Nash, according to the sale’s catalogue. In 1992, the work sold at Sotheby’s New York for just $1.1 million with premium, to megacollector David Geffen. A climb of more than $48 million over about a quarter-century: not too bad.
The Hockney result comes just months after one of the artist’s key works, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972, sold for $90.3 million at Christie’s New York, making the 81-year-old Brit the record holder for the most expensive work of art by a living artist ever sold at auction.
(Unless noted, all prices include buyer’s premium, which is 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including £225,000, about $254,500; 20 percent on the next increment up to and including £3 million, or $3.95 million; and 13.5 percent on everything above that figure.)
Another figurative painting failed to find such success. Peter Doig’s Haus der Bilder (House of Pictures), 2001, estimated at £3 million to £5 million ($3.95 million–$6.58 million), went unsold, the biggest-ticket pass of the night. The owner had acquired it the year it was painted from Milan’s Galleria Monica de Cardenas.
The other two passes were a 1992 Anselm Kiefer estimated at £500,000 to £700,000 ($658,700–$922,200) and a 1965 David Hockney being sold by artist Frank Stella with a £1.5 million-to-£2 million estimate ($1.98 million–$2.63 million).
On the abstract end of things, Gerhard Richter’s A B, Tower (1987), a roughly 55-by-39-inch squeegeed number, in green, silver, and red-orange, also estimated at £3 million to £5 million ($3.95 million–$6.58 million), sold for just above that low estimate, with the help of premium, going for £3.13 million ($4.12 million). The work last appeared on the block less than a year and a half ago, when it went for $3.84 million at Sotheby’s New York.
A 1961 Joan Mitchell, Blue Michigan, also went just above its low estimate, aided by premium as it sold for £2.89 million ($3.81 million) on an estimate of £2.8 million to £3.5 million ($3.68 million to $4.60 million). And Cecily Brown’s Night Passage (1999), measuring about 100 by 110 inches went for a bit more, £3.13 million ($4.12 million), just above its £2.5 million ($3.29 million) high estimate.
The big contemporary evening sales in London conclude tomorrow with 29 lots at Phillips.