LONDON—Sotheby’s Part One sale on June 22 scored £19.3 million ($35.3 million), its highest total for a contemporary sale in London.
The top lot was Lucian Freud’s early self-portrait Man with a Feather, 1943, consigned by Freud’s former agent James Kirkman, which was sold to an anonymous phone bidder for £3.7 million, or $6.8 million (estimate: £2/3 million). It was the highest price by some margin for an early work by the artist. Kirkman was also selling a less interesting Freud picture, Acacia, 1975, which did well when it fetched £590,400, or $1 million (estimate: £350,000/450,000).
But a third Freud, a 1998 portrait of his son, Ali, consigned with a guarantee by a Chicago collector, was deemed too expensive (estimate: £1.2/1.8 million) and failed to sell. (The result caused alarm in the Christie’s camp, which had three Freud paintings up for sale the following night.)
Five British Works Set Records
Totals at Sotheby’s were particularly strong for British artists, five of whom saw record prices. David Hockney’s oil-on-canvas Seated Woman Being Served Tea by Standing Companion, 1963, was one of several works consigned with guarantees that week (mostly at Christie’s) by California collectors Kent and Vicki Logan. Seated Woman realized a record £1.8 million ($3.3 million) from a commission bid placed by Donald L. Bryant, a trustee of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, who was buying it for the museum.
A 17-foot-long spot painting by Damien Hirst, which had hung in Chelsea’s Lot 61 restaurant for five years, made a record £523,200, or $957,090 (estimate: £300,000/400,000), for a Hirst painting when it went to a phone buyer bidding against London dealer Helly Nahmad.
The market for works by Glenn Brown continued spiraling when The Pornography of Death . . ., 1995, last sold by Charles Saatchi in 1998 for £10,350, now brought a record £220,800, or $401,856 (estimate: £150,000/200,000) from London dealer Ivor Braka. Braka also paid a record £344,000, or $629,500 (estimate: £200,000/300,000), for Paula Rego’s Target, 1995, after a bidding battle with private dealer Desmond Page and the artist’s agent Marlborough Fine Art. Marlborough was asking around £200,000 each for Rego’s latest works at Art Basel.
Scully Work Soars Unexpectedly
But perhaps the most exceptional result turned out to be the £377,600, or $687,200 (estimate: £100,000/150,000), spent by Alan Hobart, of London’s Pyms Gallery, for Sean Scully’s medium-sized canvas Wall of Light, Temozon, 2002, a work that originally would have cost $140,000 if purchased from Scully’s London dealer Timothy Taylor.
The only other record, perhaps inspired by higher prices asked at Art Basel, was for the intricate painting Tutto, 1988-89, by Alighiero Boetti, which fell for £310,400, or $564,928 (estimate: £100,000/150,000).
The sale, which was 86 percent sold by lot, saw few major disappointments. Apart from Freud’s Ali, the most conspicuous ones were Turisti, 1997, a group of 12 taxidermied pigeons by Maurizio Cattelan (estimate: £100,000/150,000); and Joy, 1998, an ink-wash drawing by Marlene Dumas (estimate: £100,000/150,000). Both failed to sell.
At the sale, New York gallerist William Acquavella moved to the back of the room to acquire Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, 1987 (last sold in 1999 for $552,500), for £747,200, or $1.4 million (estimate: £400,000/600,000). Basquiat is not an artist previously associated with Acquavella Galleries.
Other buyers at the sale were Alain Jathiere, of Christie’s Caracas, who bought Christopher Wool’s Untitled (F 46), 1992, for £142,400, or $259,168 (estimate: £50,000/70,000); art adviser Hugues Joffre, who bought Le Morvandiau, 1954, a rare charcoal sculpture by Jean Dubuffet, from the collection of Daniel Cordier, for £344,000, or $626,000 (estimate: £200,000/300,000), and underbid on Nicolas de Staël’s 1954 canvas Les Martigues, from the collection of actor Sean Connery, which sold for £612,800, or $1.1 million (estimate: £400,000/600,000); Daniele Pescali from Milan, who bought Piero Manzoni’s Achrome, 1957-58, for £254,400, or $463,000 (estimate: £180,000/250,000), as well as Lucio Fontana’s mixed media Concetto Spaziale, 1954, for £209,600, or $381,470 (estimate: £200,000/250,000); and New York private dealer Dominique Levy, who bought Richard Prince’s canvas Bachelor Nurse, 2003, for £265,600, or $483,392 (estimate:£150,000/200,000).
Sotheby’s estimated that 37 percent of the buyers were from America, while 21 percent were from Switzerland, 16 percent from Italy and 11 percent from the United Kingdom.
After the sale, auctioneer Tobias Meyer attributed the strength of the market to the wealth of new buyers, the difficulty of acquiring works by the most-sought-after artists, and the general consensus on who those artists are. The prize for the biggest percentage profit realized went not to the seller of the Brown work, but to whoever it was that bought Bridget Riley’s 1963 Interrupted Circle at Christie’s East in 1998 for around $10,000—and sold it at the Sotheby’s auction for £288,000 ($524,160).