LONDON—Christie’s opened its Feb 8 sale with six lots from the collection of the late Miss Valerie Beston (1922-2005), the director of London’s Marlborough Fine Art Gallery who had looked after the affairs of Francis Bacon (1909-92). From these works came the star lot of the sale, Bacon’s 1969 Self-Portrait, affectionately inscribed to Beston. Though small, the painting was viewed as a gem—“the perfect picture”—said Christie’s international co-head of contemporary art Amy Cappellazzo after it had sold for more than double its estimate at £5.16 million ($9 million). This was more than three times the price of any other small painting by Bacon. Bidders in the room included private collector Lawrence Graff, along with dealers Ivor Braka, Andrew Fabricant and Larry Gagosian, all of whom lost out to a phone bidder.
The price paid, £5.16 million, was the same as that for a much larger work by Bacon—Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez, 1959—which sold on a single bid at its low estimate to a phone bidder. This painting, which was guaranteed, was known to belong to Swiss art dealer Madame Georges Marci, who had offered it in 1994, when it went unsold with a £1.8 million low estimate. It had none of the concentrated energy of the smaller picture.
The rest of the Beston material in the evening sale produced record prices for School of London artists Michael Andrews—a triple-estimate £176,000 ($306,240) for a small Study of a Head for “Lights,” 1968; and Frank Auerbach—a quadruple-estimate £433,600 ($754,464), paid by Acquavella Galleries for another small painting, Tree on Primrose Hill, 1986.
School of London artists then completed their domination of the sale with two portraits by Lucian Freud. A very early work, Girl on the Quay, 1941, brought a mid-estimate £400,000 ($696,000) from dealer Richard Nagy; and a more mature Man in a String Chair, 1988-89, a portrait of Freud’s bookmaker Victor Chandler, fetched a top-estimate £4.15 million ($7.2 million) from a private European phone bidder.
Late Warhols in Demand
Some of the liveliest bidding came for late works by Andy Warhol. A rare (to the market at least) black-and-white version of The Last Supper, 1986, fell to François Curiel, Christie’s chairman in France, for a double-estimate £2.7 million ($4.7 million). But a more remarkable £2.6 million ($4.6 million) was given for a large Dollar Sign painting, 1981-82.
The buyer, who was in the room, was Alex Lachmann, a dealer from Cologne. Lachmann, who had also purchased a set of avant-garde Russian ceramics in London’s record-breaking Russian sales (see ANL, 1/3/06), was believed to be bidding for a Russian collector; he went on to buy a 1957 abstract painting by Russian-born School of Paris artist Serge Poliakoff for £321,600 or $558,580 (estimate: £180,000/250,000).
The sale was also marked by heavy bidding and record prices for contemporary European, especially German, painters. Franz Ackermann’s B2 Barbeque with the Duke, 1999, doubled the previous record for the artist, selling for £299,200, or $521,506 (estimate: £150,000/200,000). Matthias Weischer’s 2002 untitled painting of an empty room quadrupled the high estimate to sell for £220,800, or $384,854 (estimate: £35,000/45,000). Michael Borremans’ The Mirror, 2001, his first appearance at auction, also quadrupled estimates to sell for £131,200 ($228,288). And Eberhard Havekost’s small painting Team, 2001, quadrupled estimates again to sell for the same figure.
More records were set for Georg Baselitz, when U.S. collector Daniel Loeb paid a double- estimate £1.24 million ($2.16 million) for Ein Roter, 1966, one of the artist’s classic “Hero” paintings; for a work on paper by Yves Klein, when art adviser Hugues Joffre paid a mid-estimate £1 million ($1.77 million) for the artist’s body painting Ant 173, 1961; for Eduardo Chillida, when a private European phone bidder paid a double-estimate £1.24 million ($2.16 million) for Elogio de la Arquitectura, a 1999 steel sculpture; and for a photographic work by Sigmar Polke, when ten prints from his 1975 “São Paolo” series sold for a double-estimate £568,000 ($990,024) to the David Zwirner Gallery.
Other buyers contributed to the stellar total of the sale: Madrid consultant Edmund Peel, bidding against London dealer Desmond Page, bought Bridget Riley’s Sound, 1973, within estimate for £131,200 ($228,290).
Larry Gagosian acquired Richard Prince’s photograph Untitled (Girlfriend), 1993, for a mid-estimate £84,000 ($146,160); and Dirk Skreber’s 1994 untitled painting of nuclear watch vehicles, against the reserve, for a low estimate £78,000 ($135,720).
Jose Mugrabi purchased a complete set of Marilyn Monroe screenprints by Warhol for a double-estimate £624,000 ($1.1 million), as well as On Kawara’s date painting Nov. 8 1989 for a double-estimate £355,200 ($618,048).
Jan Krugier took Antonio Saura’s Nong dans son fauteuil, 1985, for an above-estimate £164,800 ($287,250); and Antoni Tàpies’ Arquitectura, 1963, also above-estimate, for £400,000 ($696,000).
Rachel Mauro of Dickinson Roundell outbid rival consultant Abigail Asher for Gerhard Richter’s large Abstraktes Bild, 1990, paying £769,600, ($1.3 million) for the work (estimate: £300,000/500,000). Dealer Nagy bought Auerbach’s early Reclining Head of E.O.W., 1969, for a triple-estimate £344,000 ($598,560). And Joffre bought Tàpies’ El traball nocturn, 1951, for an above-estimate £120,000 ($208,800).