ONDON—Sotheby’s came close to equaling its best-ever London sale for contemporary art on June 21 when its Part One sale realized £30.06 million. The previous high for Sotheby’s was the £30.4 million taken in February. However, in dollar terms, and because of the exchange rate, the June 21 sale could rate as the highest ever at $55.48 million, compared to $53 million in February.
As in February, British art was to the fore, claiming four of the top ten lots and five of the 11 artists’ records claimed. The top lot was David Hockney’s iconic 1966 painting The Splash (estimate: £2.2/3 million), sent for sale by Norman Pattiz, chairman of Westwood One, the largest radio network in the U.S. Underbid by London dealer Ivor Braka, it sold to Eykyn Maclean for a record £2.9 million ($5.39 million).
Lucian Freud’s powerful 1963-64 portrait of photographer John Deakin (estimate: £1.5/2 million), last sold at Christie’s in 1997 for £892,000, was underbid by London collector Laurence Graff before selling to a phone bidder for £1.69 million ($3.1 million). A classic 1966 black-and- white Op art painting by Bridget Riley was one of the most hotly contested works of the sale. Estimated at £300,000/400,000, it sold to dealer Jeffrey Deitch, bidding for a U.S. client against PaceWildenstein, for a record £1.2 million ($2.2 million). A small landscape, Mornington Crescent II, 1993, by Frank Auerbach (estimate: £250,000/350,000), fell for a record £456,000 or $843,600, to London dealer Richard Green, bidding against dealers Eykyn Maclean.
New records for younger British artists fell when Peter Doig’s Iron Hill, 1991 (estimate: £400,000/600,000), sold to a European collector for £1.1 million ($2.1 million); an untitled 1999 alabaster carving by Anish Kapoor (estimate: £200,000/300,000) was taken by Swiss dealer Doris Ammann for £456,000 ($843,600); and Rachel Whiteread’s cast resin Untitled (Six Spaces), 1994 (estimate: £150,000/200,000), fell to a phone bidder for £276,800 ($512,080).
Other contemporary British art that fared well included Sean Scully’s Caress, 1987 (estimate: £100,000/150,000), which was acquired by the London gallery Archeus for £148,000 ($273,800); and Damien Hirst’s small medicine cabinet Untitled (AAAAA), 1992, last sold in 2000 for $167,000, which now brought £265,600 ($491,360) from London dealer Helly Nahmad.
Froehlich Trove Garners $8.1 Million
A significant consignor to the auction was the Froehlich collection in Germany, which sent six works that garnered £4.4 million ($8.1 million). Two paintings by Gerhard Richter from this source were among the top-selling lots; they went to an Asian private collector. Tante Marianne, 1965 (estimate: £1.5/2 million), was the second-highest-selling lot of the sale at £2.1 million ($3.9 million); it was underbid by Oslo’s Galleri K.
But it was younger-generation German artists who were breaking records. Daniel Richter’s Über die Toten Nichts Schlechtes, 2001 (estimate: £120,000/150,000), sold to a phone bidder for £243,200 ($449,920); and Neo Rauch’s Losung (Password), 1998 (estimate: £350,000/450,000), was acquired by another phone bidder for £456,000 ($843,600). While not a record, Matthias Weischer’s 2002 painting Braunes Zimmer (estimate: £100,000/150,000) sold at a top-estimate £176,000 ($325,600) to New York’s PaceWildenstein.
The U.S. contribution was dominated mostly by Andy Warhol’s late works. One of only four versions of The Scream (after Edvard Munch), 1984 (estimate: £300,000/500,000), attracted more competition than any other lot, selling to U.S. collector Theodore Baum, who outbid Graff, for £1.5 million ($2.7 million)—a record by a long shot for Warhol’s “Art from Art” series. Self Portrait (“Retrospective” series), 1979 (estimate: £220,000/280,000), sold comfortably over estimate to the Vedovi Gallery, Brussels, for £344,000 ($636,400), as did Torso, 1977 (estimate: £120,000/150,000), which was purchased by dealer Dino Zevi for £187,200 ($346,320).
Of 68 lots offered, 62, or 91.2 percent, found buyers. With respect to hammer prices, 26 were sold above estimate.
In contrast to New York sales, the guarantee level was small, with ten lots carrying a low estimate of £8.9 million and realizing a premium-inclusive £9.8 million ($18.13 million). One key factor appears to be that the droit de suite, or artist’s resale royalty that was introduced in the U.K. after the February sales (ANL, 3/14/06), is not deterring buyers. Thirty-five lots were by living European artists and carried the levy, capped at a maximum €12,500; 33 of them found buyers.