LONDON—Less than two weeks after New York auction houses racked up nearly $900 million in contemporary art sales at spring auctions, demand was still robust as Sotheby’s London saw works from another private collection surge past estimates. A total of 41 contemporary artworks and pieces of modern furniture from the collection of the late Gunther Sachs, the German playboy and heir to the Opel car fortune who was married for a while to Brigitte Bardot, were offered by Sotheby’s on May 22. Estimated to bring in £18 million/25 million, 37, or 90 percent, were sold, for a total of £36 million ($56 million).
Dominating the sale were works by Andy Warhol, whom Sachs met in Europe in the early 1960s. The top price of the sale was a relatively late acquisition, Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), 1986, which Sachs had bought at Christie’s in London, in December 1998, for around £200,000 ($330,000) as half of a pair of Self-Portraits. (The pair cost just under £400,000.) Now estimated at £2 million/3 million, the 40-inch square painting sold for £5.4 million ($8.5 million).
One of the underbidders was New York’s Jose Mugrabi, who either underbid or bought most of the top lots by Warhol. He bought the 48-inch square Flowers, 1964–65, for £3.7 million ($5.9 million), against a £3 million/4 million estimate, and was the underbidder on The Kiss (Bela Lugosi), 1964, which sold to a European phone bidder for £3.2 million ($5 million), against a £700,000/900,000 estimate, as well as Brigitte Bardot, 1974, which sold to another European phone bidder for a slightly disappointing £3 million ($4.7 million), against a £3 million/4 million estimate. A Warhol record was set, however, when a complete set of ten Mao screenprints from 1972 sold to a private collector on the phone for £1.6 million ($2.5 million), against an estimate of £300,000/500,000.
Mugrabi was also the winning bidder on the two top-selling works by Tom Wesselmann: Great American Nude #31, 1962, was bought for £1.7 million ($2.7 million), against a £1.2 million/1.8 million estimate; and Great American Nude #51,1963, was bought for £1.6 million ($2.5 million), against a £1.2 million/1.8 million estimate. Another work associated with American Pop was Mel Ramos’s A.C. Annie, 1971, which was one of the surprises of the night selling way over the £150,000/200,000 estimate to London dealer Guy Morrison, bidding for a private collector, for £1.1 million ($1.7 million).
Fireworks were expected, however, for a group of three Pop art furniture sculptures made in 1969 by British artist Allen Jones. The works had caused a furious feminist backlash when first exhibited because the furniture used fibreglass models of semi-naked women, wearing fetishistic clothing, in submissive positions. In 1981, Tate director Sir Alan Bowness was singled out for criticism as he purchased one of the sculptures, Chair, for the gallery with public money. Six editions were made of the sculptures, and one set, belonging to pop star Elton John, sold at Sotheby’s in 1988 for £21,000 ($35,500)—considered a high price at the time for a British Pop artist.
Now, with each sculpture estimated at £30,000/40,000, they attracted multiple bids from Mugrabi and London dealer Pilar Ordovas, among others, before all selling to the same telephone buyer. Hat Stand was sold for £780,450 ($1.2 million), while Chair was sold for £836,450 ($1.3 million) and Table took £970,850 ($1.5 million), respectively.
Other dealers in the room included Stefan Ratibor, of Gagosian Gallery, who was outbid on Richard Avedon’s photograph of Bardot as it sold for £145,250 ($229,500), against a £40,000/60,000 estimate, and London-based Manfredi della Gherardesca, who bought René Magritte’s Le Calcul Mental, 1940, for £325,250 ($513,900), against a £180,000/250,000 estimate.
Also active was Otto Wols expert Dr. Ewald Rathke, who bought two works by the German artist: Faubourg Inhospitalier, a 1942 watercolor, which sold for £79,250 ($125,215); and an untitled watercolor, which sold for £37,250 ($58,855), both against estimates of £20,000/30,000.
In the part two sale, on May 23, another 228 of 247 lots, or 92 percent, were sold, for £5.8 million ($9.2 million), to bring the total for the two sessions to £41.4 million ($62.5 million), double the pre-sale estimate “in excess of £20 million.” Notable among the results was a record £205,250 ($323,495), against an estimate of £8,000/12,000, for a photograph by Sachs titled Ascot, 1995. In his post-sale comments, Sotheby’s senior specialist Oliver Barker could not resist employing an obvious pun, surmising that the sale had been driven by “Sachs appeal.”
Sachs died last year, aged 78, and the collection was being sold by his family members, who have retained a number of choice works.