Mark Rothko, Untitled (1955), withdrawn from Christie’s auction
There were many heavy hitters at Christie’s on Tuesday evening. It was the second highest sale in London since the dawn of the recession in 2008. Christie’s would most likely have surpassed their highest expectations had Rothko’s 1955 Untitled not been withdrawn from the auction, as it was expected to fetch upwards of $11–14 million. Christie’s representative Francis Outred told Art Info, “It was withdrawn for a private sale,” although there has not been a final sale announced yet. Perhaps the most desirable of the lots—and the highest selling piece—was Francis Bacon’s Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, which sold for $33.3 million dollars at Christie’s, well over the $23.5–31.3 million estimate. This painting had been unseen by the public eye for many years, and was once part of the collection of Manhattan-based real estate developer Sheldon Solow. The painting is a colorful and sexually aggressive rendition of a photograph taken by John Deakin of the 1960s Soho socialite Henrietta Moraes, a former lover of Lucian Freud’s.
At Sotheby’s, Bacon’s Figure With Monkey sold for $2,876,735, just above the low estimate of $2,824,560.
Another major sale at Christie’s was Freud’s print-like drawing Boat, Connemara, which went to London dealer Stephen Ongpin for $1,031,883, more than double the high estimate of $470,760. The stark landscape is significant for its craftsmanship, and being the last of the work before Freud began working on the impasto figurative oil paintings that he is known for. However, Freud’s Annie did not fare as well, its price tag of $473,700–$789,500 was passed on entirely.
At Sotheby’s it was hit or miss with the five drawings and one painting of Freud’s. His drawings fared well for the most part with three of them going well over their anticipated price points: Gorse Sprig, Head of Success II, and Lord Goodman. However, the painting Portrait of a Man did not sell, estimated at $2,353,800–3,138,400.
The artist who seemed to consistently bring in the numbers, regardless of which piece or at which house the auction took place was Gerhard Richter. At Christie’s his large jewel-toned painting Abstratkes Bild from 1994 brought in $15,538,683; above the estimated $7.6–$11 million. Another significantly smaller work of 24 x 28 inches, Abstratkes Bild sold for $1,559,403, well above its price tag of $600,000–900,000.
At Sotheby’s Richter dominated the sales, with four of their top five sales attributed to his paintings and a total of six works in the sale altogether. Abstratkes Bild from 1992 sold for $7,626,368. Along with the other five, Richter’s paintings summed nearly $30 million. This continued to reinforce his possible status as the greatest living painter, as well as a definitive investment in the marketplace.
The dark horse of the Sotheby’s sale was artist Zao Wou-ki works. Both of his paintings sold well above their respected estimates, in fact double the highest estimate in both cases. The warm hued landscape painting 10.01.91 sold for $1,609,250, and the cool-toned oceanic painting 28.12.99 sold for $2,878,368. At Christie’s Christopher Wool’s Untitled also soared above expectations bringing in $7,713,803, a record price for the artist; it was estimated at $3,800,000–$5,300,000.
Although many artist’s works did well in both houses, a number of pieces did not have a single bidder. At Sotheby’s, works by Fontana, Manzoni, Soulages, and Baselitz all went unsold, and at Christie’s, a Bourgeois, Hockney, Soulages, and Barceló shared a similar fate.
– A. Roemer
Post War and Contemporary Evening Auction [Christie's]
Contemporary Art Auction [Sotheby's]
Christie’s Art Sale hits post-2008 high [Financial Times]
Another Small Triumph for Modern Art [New York Times]
Burst of Buying at Modern Art Sale [New York Times]
Christie’s London evening auction of Post-War and Contemporary art totals £80.6 million [Art Daily]
A Sizzling Francis Bacon Helps Christie’s Cook Up $126 million at Its London Contemporary Sale [Art Info]
Bacon’s New Model Tops $126.5 Million Christie’s U.K. Auction [Bloomberg]
Contests for Six Richter’s Push Sotheby’s UK Sale to $80 Million [Bloomberg]