Phillips Pulled In a Modest $24 Million Contemporary Sale in London, Led by Cecily Brown, Caroline Walker, and Other Female Stars

Gerhard Richter's star lot was withdrawn at the last minute.

Phillips London evening sale, March 2, 2023. ©Thomas De Cruz Media: Davide Cossu

All eyes were on Phillips’s 20th century and contemporary art sale tonight in London after Christie’s and Sotheby’s fell short in the past two days of their previous results. Despite the house’s best effort at delivering a modest, tightly-curated sale that achieved a high sell-through rate, it appeared that Phillips could not escape the same fate as its peers.

One of the sale’s top lots, Gerhard Richter’s 1983 abstract work Mathis, offered by French collector Marcel Brient, was withdrawn at the last minute after potential bidders floated figures that apparently did not meet the collector’s expectations.

All of the remaining 23 lots—the smallest London evening sale the categories that the house has staged since March 2019—managed to find buyers. It achieved a total £16.3 million ($19.5 million) at hammer price, which fell within the (premium-free) pre-sale estimation of between £15.8 million and £22.2 million after the withdrawal of the Richter.

Caroline Walker, Threshold

Caroline Walker, Threshold (2014). Courtesy of Phillips.

The smaller scale meant that the final total of £20.3 million ($24.3 million), despite being inflated by fees, was more than 32 percent down from the evening sale held a year ago, though that event offered 41 lots. (Fees, by the way, have just increased from 26 to 27 percent this month for the £450,000 to £800,000 threshold.) The sale was, nevertheless, nearly 10 percent up from October’s total at £18.7 million ($20.9 million), and achieved several auction records.

The unexpected withdrawal of a top lot did not dent the mood, as the sale room saw a full house of well-heeled spectators and bidders. Philips CEO Stephen Brooks described the auction, which drew active bids from 34 countries, as “vibrant” and enthusiastic.

The “100 percent” sale-through rate (minus the Richter) was a testament to “solid performances from the 20th century masters to works created today, demonstrating a clear strength from the market,” he added. Auctioneer Henry Highley successfully maintained a good momentum and concluded the short and sweet event in about an hour.

Willem de Kooning, [no title]

Willem de Kooning, [no title] (1984). Courtesy of Phillips.

The top lot of the night was an untitled Willem de Kooning painting from 1984, also offered by Brient, who has held the work since he acquired it in 2003. It went under hammer for £5 million ($6 million), less than the lower end of the presale expectation at £7 million ($8.4 million). (It achieved a total at £6 million ($7.3 million) after adding the fees.) The record of an untitled work by the artist from 1984 stood at $9.8 million, achieved at a Christie’s New York in 2013.

Olivia Thornton, Phillips’s head of 20th century and contemporary art, Europe, noted that women artists stole the show this evening. The star of the night had to be the London-based Scottish painter Caroline Walker, whose stunning pool painting Threshold (2014) was hammered at £730,000 ($872,521)—more than three and a half times the high of the presale estimate of £200,000. The sum was achieved after an 11-minute bidding war between an in-room female bidder who was on the phone, and bidders at the house’s phone bank.

The work eventually sold to the in-room bidder for a with-fees total of £927,100 ($1.1 million), smashing the record set at Christie’s evening sale just on Tuesday.

Loie Hollowell, Split Orbs in purple, ochre, and brown (2021). Courtesy of Phillips.

Loie Hollowell, Split Orbs in purple, ochre, and brown (2021). Courtesy of Phillips.

Another highlight was Cecily Brown’s erotic painting Skulldiver II (2006), which achieved a hammer price at £1.8 million ($2.2 million), just above the presale expectations. The work sold for £2.2 million ($2.7 million) including fees to a phone bidder, more than four times the price when it was last sold at a Phillips London sale in March 2018. The artist will be having her first museum survey show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in April.

Loie Hollowell’s recent work Split Orbs in purple, ochre, and brown (2021) went under hammer for £500,000 ($589,800), within its expectations. The abstract work Egg White Blue (2019-2020) by the Angela Heisch, born in 1989 in New Zealand, seemed to have a dialogue with the Hollowell piece hung next to it and achieved a hammer price of £60,000 ($71,856). Its final sale price of £76,200 ($91,257) set a new auction record for the artist.

British artist Sarah Ball achieved a new record with her 2020 portrait Elliot, sold for £120,650 ($144,490), well above the higher end of the presale estimates even without fees, after an intense bidding war between an online buyers from China and a phone bidder, who won in the end. It broke the record of £94,500 ($107,191) set in October at Christie’s London.

Angela Heisch, Egg White Blue

Angela Heisch, Egg White Blue (2019-2020). Courtesy of Phillips.

Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Danica Lundy (born in 1991) had her second auction appearance with the eerie painting Bonfire (2017), following her debut at Phillips New York in November, and her first solo show with White Cube in September. B

Bonfire sold for £107,950 ($129,281), with a hammer price that fell within the presale expectations after an intense bidding war between two online buyers from China and Canada, the latter of whom won.

Banksy’s Home Sweet Home (2006), fresh to the market and one of the two lots with a third-party guarantee in this evening sale, went under hammer at £1.4 million ($1.7 million), below the low presale estimate of £1.5 million ($1.8 million). It sold for £1.7 million ($2 million) with fees.

Last October, Banksy’s Sorry The Lifestyle You Ordered Is Currently Out Of Stock (2012), also painted on a found canvas, sold at Phillips London for more than £1.8 million ($2 million). Another third-party-guaranteed work, Express (2001) by the late Michel Majerus, sold for £444,500 ($532,333), including fees. It achieved a hammer price within the presale expectations of £300,000 to £500,000 ($358,867 to $598,112).

Heinz Mack, Lamellen-Relief

Heinz Mack, Lamellen-Relief (1961). Courtesy of Phillips.

The sculpture Cherubs (1991) from the “Made in Heaven” series by Jeff Koons, who has just made global headlines after one of his Balloon Dog (Blue) sculptures shattered into pieces at a Miami fair, resurfaced on the market after over a decade. It sold for £482,600 ($577,962), with a hammer price below the presale expectations and 20 percent down from the 2012 sale price at $722,500, realized at Christie’s New York.

Other works fresh to the auction market by established names included Jean Dubuffet’s canvas work Site aléatoire avec 3 personnages (1982), sold for £838,200 ($1 million), with a hammer price within presale expectations. Damien Hirst’s large-scale specimen work Briareus (2012) fetched £457,200 ($547,543), but with a hammer price at £360,000 ($431136), it was below the lower end of the presale estimate of £400,000 ($478,490). Meanwhile, Anselm Kiefer’s monumental painting Walhalla (2016) achieved £1 million ($1.3 million), with a hammer price within presale expectations.


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