Following Christie’s dual-city sale staged in Shanghai and London on Tuesday, Sotheby’s followed with two auctions held of modern and contemporary art in the British capital that generating $297 million. Between the back-to-back sales, 66 out of a total 74 lots sold, yielding an 89 percent sell-through rate. That number is slightly less than a stellar figure, but the rate is about the same one achieved at Christie’s sales last night.
Three works by René Magritte, David Hockney and Marino Marini came with in-house guarantees, while another 16 pieces were secured with third-party backing. After several lots were withdrawn, the sale was expected to fetch an estimated hammer price of £170.4 million–£223.3 million (229 million–$300 million). The sale’s final sum of £221.4 million ($297.2 million) includes premium. Records were set for market up-and-comers like Shara Hughes, Flora Yukhnovich, Hilary Pecis, and Robert Nava.
Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker took to the rostrum on Wednesday morning to kick off the event with the “Now” evening sale, which is dedicated to works made by artists in the last two decades. The format was inaugurated in the fall as a way to test global demand for new talent. Barker passed the gavel on to his colleague Helena Newman, co-head of the Impressionist and modern art department in Europe, for the next portion of the afternoon focused on modern art. Despite news of sanctions levied on Russian banks following the country’s invasion of Ukraine last week, bidding activity across the two sales went largely unaffected by reports of an economic weakening in the Eastern European region and rising oil prices in the West.
The work which fetched the highest price on Wednesday was a 1961 painting by René Magritte, which sold for £59.4 million ($79.8 million), setting a new auction record for the Belgian Surrealist. That price more than tripled his previous record of $26.8 million, achieved by the sale of Le Principe du Plaisir (1937) at Sotheby’s in 2018. The painting sold by Sotheby’s on Wednesday came from the collection of Anne Crowet-Gillon, a longtime muse and patron of Magritte’s. The work went to a bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Asia, Alex Branczik, who beat out bidders on the phone with Sotheby’s staffers based in the United Arab Emirates and London. The final price surpasses its pre-sale expectation of roughly £40 million ($60 million).
A serene painting from Claude Monet’s waterlilies series, Nymphéas (1914), hammered at its high estimate for a price of £20 million ($27.9 million), going to a buyer on the phone with London-based specialist Simon Stock, who was manning the phones from Sotheby’s Asia desk. With premium, its final price was £23.2 million ($31.2 million).
Some of the most active bidding of the night was spurred by David Hockney’s hexagonally shaped painting Garrowby Hill (2017), which depicts a landscape in East Yorkshire, an area in England that the artist has repeatedly returned to in his work. The painting hammered at a price of 12 million ($16.4 million), going for a final price of £14 million ($18.9 million). The result was more than double the low estimate of 7.5 million ($10.2 million).
Elsewhere in the sale, a 1981 oilstick and Xerox collage on canvas by Jean-Michael Basquiat sold for £3.3 million ($4.4 million), hammering at £2.7 million ($3.6 million), just above its low estimate. Its consigner, according to Artnet News, was Jose Mugrabi. A 1965 painting of an ornately decorated piece of cake by Domenico Gnoli, who was recently the subject of a retrospective at Milan’s Fondazione Prada, attracted bidding from London and Asia. Titled La Tranche, the work hammered above its £1.2 million ($1.6 million) estimate, selling for a final price of £2.5 million ($3.3 million). At the very end of the sale, two works by Andy Warhol failed to attract enough attention from bidders in order to sell.
In the “Now” evening sale, records fell for in-demand contemporary artists. Roughly half of the works in that sale attracted bidding from clients based across the Asia Pacific region.
Shara Hughes’s 2019 painting Naked Lady, an abstraction that contains forms resembling body parts, sold for £2 million ($2.7 million) after a 15-minute bidding spar that saw 10 bidders vying for the work. The result surpassed artist’s previous record of $1.5 million paid for Inside Outside (2018) at Phillips last year. A 2020 canvas titled Warm, Wet ‘N’ Wild by Flora Yukhnovich, whose Rococo-inspired tableaux have attracted attention from speculators since her work debuted at auction last year, saw a bidding frenzy. The painting eventually sold for a final price of £2.7 million ($3.6 million), setting a new artist record. The result was more than 13 times the pre-sale high estimate of £214,200 ($285,000).
Though the momentum slowed by a modernism-focused portion that concluded the auctions, Sotheby’s still reaped the benefits of a move made midway through the pandemic to further capitalize on demand for primary-market darlings during its evening sales. “We saw classic names rub shoulders with young debutants in a way that really worked,” said James Sevier, Sotheby’s European head of contemporary art, in a statement, calling the London event’s format “a winning formula.”