By the Numbers: A Breakdown of Results from Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Evening Sale, March 2024 

Let the numbers tell the story. 

Auctioneer Henry Highley sells the top lot of the sale, Andy Warhol's Portrait of Princess Diana. Photo: Courtesy of Phillips.

Perhaps it was held too close to lunchtime, but attendees at Phillips London’s 20th century and contemporary art evening sale—held at the peculiar hour of 3 p.m., in advance of Christie’s evening sales—seemed to have little appetite for buying. The March 7 sale brought in £13.7 million ($17.4 million) including fees, which represents a third less than the same sale last year.  

While the total is a hair over the sale’s presale low estimate, when looking at the hammer total (£10.9 million, or $13.8 million), the house fell short of its goal by about £2.7 million ($3.5 million). A contributing factor was the withdrawal of three works from the 29-lot sale: Renoir’s La petite pêcheuse (1879) and an untitled Wade Guyton before the sale, plus a painting by Martin Kippenberger during the sale after another of the German artist’s sculptures failed to sell.

Another two lots by Damien Hirst and Adrian Ghenie, respectively, were also bought in. Nearly half (11) of the 23 lots that did sell hammered below their low estimate. That includes three of the four lots backed by third-party guarantees, suggesting they likely went to their guarantors.  

Bright spots in the evening (or rather, afternoon) included new records set for Jesse Mockrin, whose A Cymbal Crashed and Roaring Horns (2017) doubled its estimate at £120,650 ($153,949), and Kehinde Wiley, whose Christian Martyr Tarcisius (2008) achieved £660,400 ($842,670).  

Read on for further details on the sale by the numbers…

Kehinde Wiley, Christian Martyr Tarcisius

Kehinde Wiley, Christian Martyr Tarcisius (2008). Courtesy of Phillips.

Total Sales After Fees: $13.7 million ($17.4 million) 

Total Sales of Equivalent Sale Last Year: £20.3 million ($24.3 million) 

Hammer Total: £10.9 million ($13.8 million) 

Top Seller: Andy Warhol’s Portrait of Princess Diana (1986), £2.4 million ($3 million). A four-minute bidding war yielded the highest price achieved for a Princess Diana work by the artist. 

Lots on Offer: 29 

Lots Withdrawn: 3 

Lots Sold: 23 

Lots Bought In: 3 

Sell-through Rate: 79 percent 

Sell-through Rate Excluding Withdrawals: 88 percent 

Presale Low Estimate: £13.6 million ($17.3 million) 

Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: £11.7 million ($14.9 million) 

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate: -£2.7 million (-$3.5 million) 

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate (revised after withdrawals): -£835,000 (-$1.1 million) 

Lots Guaranteed: 6 

Lots With House Guarantees: 2 

Lots With Third-Party Guarantees: 4 

Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lots: £1.9 million ($2.4 million) 

Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: £1 million ($1.3 million) (7 percent of total presale low estimate) 

Total Low Estimate of Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: £1.1 million ($1.4 million) (8 percent of total presale low estimate) 

Quote of the Night: “Great teamwork,” auctioneer Henry Highley said as specialists in the room seemed to do a quick phone swap while bids came in for the final lot of the sale, Atsushi Kaga’s Nature Came Back While We Ate Gherkins. “I don’t care who it comes from as long as it’s a bid,” he added. The work nearly doubled its high estimate, hammering for £130,000 ($165,100), allowing the sale to end on a high note. 

Parting Shot: This is the second year in a row that Phillips has run a March evening sale in London with fewer than 30 lots since 2019. But the auction house has been busy doing business elsewhere over the last couple of years—under former CEO Stephen Brooks, it inaugurated a new Asia headquarters in Hong Kong in March of last year, ahead of Christie’s and Sotheby’s. There has, however, been some C-suite shuffling as of late: Brooks stepped down at the end of 2023 and, last month, Edward Dolman was named executive chairman and CEO while Amanda Lo Iacono was appointed deputy CEO. Will there also be some sales strategies retooled with the new leadership? 

Next Sale Up: Christie’s 20th/21st Century and Art of the Surreal sales follow directly after, while Phillips’s day sale of 20th Century and contemporary art continues on March 8. 

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