Gerhard Richter Nets $46.3 Million at Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Evening Auction As Part of $188.2 Million Total

Cy Twombly and Richard Hamilton had a good night. Francis Bacon, not so much.

View Slideshow
Lot 46, Richard Hamilton, Epiphany (conceived in 1964 and executed in 1989).
Lot 18, Francis Bacon, Two Studies for Self-Portrait (1977).
Lot 30, Cy Twombly, Crimes of Passion I (1960).
Lot 32, Frank Auerbach, To the Studios (1977).
Lot 38, Georg Baselitz, Hirte (1966)
Lot 1, Jonas Wood, Studio Hallway (2010).
Lot 37, Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (1986).


Sotheby’s went into its first contemporary art sale of the year this evening with its highest estimate yet for a London sale of contemporary art of £86.7–125.5 million, excluding the premium, and came out near the top with a premium inclusive £123,515,250 ($188.2 million) total, which, like its Impressionist and modern art sale the week before, was its highest ever for contemporary art in London. A very healthy 63, or 87 percent of the lots offered were sold, taking the sale far beyond last February’s £87.9 million total.

The sale started off with a surprise—a very big 2010 painting, Studio Hallway, by 38-year-old Los Angeles–based Jonas Wood. The auction crowd didn’t really know about Wood, who has a number of works in museums in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York as well as several in the Saatchi collection, and has just had a sell-out show with Gagosian in Hong Kong (see Top Galleries Head to Hong Kong). Very few works by him have come to auction, but things are clearly happening because now there is something of a rush to sell, and the first of four works by him to come under the hammer this week raced past its £70,000–90,000 estimate to sell for £365,000 ($556,150). Among the underbidders was the eagle-eyed Jose Mugrabi.

But otherwise, this was not a sale for rising young stars. All eyes were on the Gerhard Richter market, which seemed to have settled down after a sharp spike in the market for his decorative abstracts. But they seem to be boiling up again. An impressive, large-scale abstract from 1986, one of his first Squeegee paintings, which was bought in May 1999 for $607,000, was now estimated at £14–20 million and took off, with the winning phone bidder offering £2 million increments to shake off the competition. The anonymous American buyer ended up paying a new record £30.4 million ($46.3 million) for a living European artist. The underbidder was bidding through Sotheby’s representative in Cologne, where the work has hung in the Ludwig Museum since 1999. The price represents a handy gain in value of 32.4 percent per annum since 1999.

Another Richter, however, was back on the market too soon to register any gain for the seller. The 1970 photo painting Wolken (Clouds) had been acquired two and a half years previously for $5.7 million and now sold at the low estimate for £4.1 million ($6.2 million) to another American collector.

The cover lot, a small diptych, Two Studies for Self-Portrait by Francis Bacon, didn’t attract much bidding either. Estimated at £13–18 million (see Francis Bacon’s Two Studies for Self-Portrait Diptych Estimated To Sell for $27 Million), it had been bought by a British collection in 1993 for £353,000; but it received only one bid, selling for £14.7 million, including the buyer’s premium. Some thought it had been seen too recently in a commercial gallery in London. Nevertheless, it realized the equivalent of an average 18.5 percent annual gain for the seller.

School of London paintings by Freud, Kossoff, and Auerbach all performed well, if not spectacularly, and a circular aluminum plaque, Epiphany, conceived in 1964 and realized in 1989 by British Pop artist Richard Hamilton, made a record £557,000 ($848,701) against a £150,000–200,000 estimate. That’s a nice sum to contemplate for other owners from this edition of 12.

Following the record $69.6 million for a Blackboard painting by Cy Twombly in New York this past November (see Epic Christie’s $852.9 Million Blockbuster Contemporary Art Sale Is the Highest Ever and Cy Twombly’s Blackboard Painting May Set New Auction Record), there are no fewer than 10 Twomblys up for auction in London this week.

Bidding was quite reserved for the first offerings this evening as the 1960 canvas Crime of Passion, from the collection of rock star Eric Clapton sold below the estimate for £4.1 million ($6.2 million) including premium. Clapton only bought it two and a half years ago when he paid $5.8 million for it (see Eric Clapton Flips Cy Twombly). Another Twombly painting, Untitled (Rome) (1964), was one of the few major casualties of the sale when it was unsold with a £1.7– 2.2 million estimate.

There was, however, a record for a work on paper by Twombly when Rome (1969), an oil drawing for one of his Blackboard-style paintings, sold above estimate for £3.8 million ($5,858,626).

Most bidding for an American painting came for James Rosenquist’s small painting Beach Call (1979), from a long term Hoglund collection in Sweden. With quite a tame £100,000–150,000 estimate, dealers’ hands went up all over the place—Thaddaeus Ropac, Christophe van de Weghe, Acquavella Galleries, Neal Meltzer, and Amy Capellazzo, who eventually won it for £641,000 ($976,692).

Top Warhol of the night was a small Four Multi-Coloured Marilyns (Reversals series) painted silkscreen from 1979­–86; it sold within estimate for £3.3 million (€4.4 million) to a UK collector bidding against Jose Mugrabi—a reasonable return on the €3.2 million paid for it for in Paris two years prior. (See the book excerpt from The Supermodel and the Brillo Box to better understand the connection between the Mugrabis and the Warhol market.)

European postwar art provided the majority of lots and the backbone of the sale. A white Fontana with multiple cuts had come from the Hoglund collection (see Fontana and Rauschenberg to Lead Sotheby’s Auction of Hoglund Collection). It was the same canvas that the artist famously cut on camera and, being fresh to the market, made a record for one of these cut Fontanas above estimate at £8.4 million ($12.8 million).

From the same collection again came two kinetic sculptures by Jean Tinguely. Both sold to Daniella Luxembourg (see The 100 Most Powerful Women In Art: Part Two)—one above estimate for £485,000 ($738,994), the other within estimate for £329,000 ($501,297).

Blue monochromes by Yves Klein continue to attract demand. The largest, made in 1959 and bought in 2006 for £960,000, made a handsome markup selling to Neal Meltzer for £6.1 million ($9,271,714). A smaller example from 1960 was snapped up below estimate for £2.1 million by the Dominique Lévy Gallery.

Although slightly overwhelmed by the record Richter, German art did well, selling to a very broad clientele.

Two rare 1960s drawings (to the auction room at least) by Georg Baselitz left the previous £361,250 record for a Baselitz work on paper behind. Against supportive bidding from his dealer, Thaddaeus Ropac, both sold above estimate—one, a 1965 Hero style pencil drawing for £437,000 ($665,857), and the similar Hirte, from 1966, for £485,000 ($738,994).

Works by Sigmar Polke sold to Mugrabi and Turkish collectors Halit and Kemal Cıngıllıoğlu, while a big 2005 painting in homage to Paul Celan by Anselm Kiefer and a 2007 C-print by Andreas Gursky both went to a Chinese-speaking client on the telephone.

Sotheby’s said that there was bidding from 42 countries, a figure we are getting used to now.

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