Last week, while the Frieze London art fair in Regents Park was underway, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips held late-night mid-season sales of modern and contemporary art. Together, the auction brought in a combined $210.5 million with bounty.
All three sales hammered just above the expected combined low estimate of £136.1m ($154m), marking a strong performance despite looming economic challenges.
The sale of white gloves from Christie’s reassures
A reassuring air about the middle market circulated in Christie’s auction room on Thursday afternoon, when sales of 20th and 21st century art saw 47 lots sold to buyers after three lots were withdrawn. The sale fetched a total of £72.5 million ($82.2 million), including the buyer’s premium, beating its high estimate of £55.8 million.
According to the auction house’s post-sale statement, approximately 60% of bids came from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, while another 23% came from bidders based in the Asia-Pacific region. The afternoon start time for the sale was meant to accommodate Hong Kong bidders in the evening and American collectors in the early morning.
Headlining Christie’s sale was David Hockney’s serene seascape titled Early morning Saint-Maxime (1968-69). Attracting multiple bidders, the pink and blue-hued sunset scene fetched £18m (£20.8m with fees), well beating its high estimate of £10m (£11.4m of dollars). The work, which was last seen at auction in 1988 when it sold at Christie’s for $352,000, was presented to a bidder by telephone with Hong Kong-based Christie’s specialist Cristian Albu.
A new work by Tracey Emin which the artist has donated to benefit her new art school in Margate was among the highlights of the sale. The painting, titled Like a cloud of blood (2022), went for £2.3 million ($2.57 million), falling just below its current auction record and topping the low estimate of £500,000. The sale drew a round of applause from the audience.
Painting by Scott Kahn from 1992 Croquet, a quiet scene depicting a waterfront estate next to a grassy croquet court, drew 12 bidders by phone. The painting sold for more than six times its low estimate, hammering £630,000. ($715,000). The obscure 76-year-old American artist has been the subject of a comeback following a recent solo showcase at Almine Rech. Despite the hype among the sale’s bidders, the price failed to top the artist’s auction record of $1.4 million set at a Christie’s sale in Hong Kong in May 2022.
In the second part of the afternoon, a sale devoted to works from the Robert Devereux collection. Of the 73 works that were auctioned, eight new artist records were set, including hybrids, aliens and ghosts (2013), an ink, enamel and transfer on paper invoking the extraterrestrial, by ruby onyinyechi amanze, sold for £17,000 (£21,420 with fees), against an estimate of £5,000 ($5,700).
Leaving MoMA, Francis Bacon leads Sotheby’s Sale
At Sotheby’s the following day, two consecutive London evening sales of contemporary art generated a total of £96.1 million ($107.4 million). After lots withdrawn, the sale surpassed its pre-sale adjusted low estimate of £80.8 million ($89 million) and hit the highest total for a Frieze weeknight sale since 2015.
Leading the sale was a major triptych by Francis Bacon Three studies for the portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) which came from the collection of late New York media magnate William Paley and had been on long-term loan to the Museum of Modern Art for three decades since Paley’s death. The Paley Foundation sold the work to benefit the museum and other charitable causes it historically funded. The job hammered out a $23 million bid, going to a client on the phone with New York-based contemporary art president Grégoire Billault.
Among the other top sellers of the evening to come to auction with institutional appeal was Gerhard Richter 192 Color (1966), one of his first “color chart” abstract paintings which was on long-term loan to the Hamburger Kunsthalle from 1997 to 2022. Backed by a third-party financial guarantee, the work was sold for a price final £18.3 million ($20.5 million) after attracting competition from three bidders. He beat his estimate of £13m by a solid margin.
The first part of the evening followed the “Now” sale, a stage dedicated to offering works by sought-after emerging talents. The canvas of the booming painter Flora Yukhnovich Nobody put baby in the corner sold for £1.6 million ($1.8 million) against a high estimate of £700,000 ($784,000).
A record in the main sale was set for Frank Auerbach, whose portrait of a woman, JYM Manager (1984-85), sold for £5.64 million ($6.3 million), surpassing the artist’s previous record of £4 million ($5 million) set in June at Sotheby’s. The Austrian painter Kiki Kogelnik also reached a new price milestone, when her abstract and figurative painting from 1964 Siempre Por Tio sold for £207,900 ($230,873) to a bidder in the room. The artist is the subject of an upcoming retrospective in Vienna next year.
Other records were set for Julien Nguyen, Charlene von Heyl and Caroline Walker.
Records for emerging names fall at Phillips
Phillips fetched £18.7 million ($20.9 million) at its Frieze week night sale of 20th century and contemporary art in London on Friday, a result well within presale expectations from £14.8m to £21m ($16.5m to $23.5m) and with a sell-through rate of 94%.
Records were set for Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Robert Nava, Caroline Walker and Doron Langberg as the house continued to tout its reputation for bringing new talent to public sales.
The top lot of the evening was that of Alberto Burri Sacco and Rosso (1956), which sold for £3 million ($3.4 million). Banksy came second in sales Sorry, the lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock. (2012), which grossed £1.8 million ($2 million).
Records were set for artists such as British painter Michaela Yearwood-Dan. His abstract canvas Coping mechanisms (2021) sold for £239,400 ($267,400) to a Japan-based buyer. The result was more than five times its previous record set at Phillips in London in June and eight times the £30,000 ($33,500).
A 2017 black outdoor scene of a dwelling house by Scottish-born painter Caroline Walker, who is best known for her paintings of women in private spaces, sparked a bidding war over the sale Phillips. night scenes sold for £516,600 ($577,000) five times its low estimate. The result was quickly overtaken at Sotheby’s within hours when another Palm Springs-inspired canvas by Walker from 2015 titled Interior Exterior sold for £529,200 ($587,677), beating the low estimate of £60,000 ($68,000).
A figurative painting of two men in a domestic scene by Israeli-born artist Doron Langberg titled Nir and Zach (2018) set a new artist record when it sold for £378,000 ($422,200). The result was more than three times the previous record of £163,800 ($186,000) set earlier this year.