Sotheby’s staged an evening sale offering works of modern and contemporary art on Wednesday evening in London, bringing in a combined total of £149 million ($182 million) with fees.
The 79 lots offered spanned works from young newcomers like Shara Hughes and pieces by well-established figures like Francis Bacon. 61 works sold, with two withdrawn in advance. 23 lots in the auctions were guaranteed; 18 of them were secured with irrevocable bids.
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The total hammer price for the entire grouping before fees came to £125 million ($152 million), falling below the low end of its combined pre-sale estimate of £143 million-£201 million ($174 million-$244 million).
Leading the first part of the two sales and reigning as the most expensive lot of the night was a 1964 painting depicting the British painter Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon. The work was inspired by a photograph depicting Freud sitting on a bed with his arms outstretched. Coming to the auction block after nearly 60 years out of public view and offered with a guarantee, Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud sold for £43 million ($52 million). The result met the estimated value Sotheby’s assigned to it ahead of the sale.
The first sale, which took place under the title “British Art: The Jubilee Auction,” was dedicated to art made by British artists. That portion saw several works including those by David Hockney and Banksy fail to sell on the block. By contrast, the mood in the second sale of the evening, which was dedicated to postwar and contemporary art made from the 20th century and on, saw some more energetic moments, but not many surprises. In total, 50 percent of the lots sold above their high estimates.
Portions of the second evening sale that focused on contemporary artists saw steady results for women artists, though many of whom have seen higher sums in New York and Hong Kong venues. Other parts of the sale spotlighting modern artists brought more of the usual, with all of the top lots made by men. The sale generated a new record for August Strindberg and Pauline Boty. A self-portrait by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner held in private hands for 40 years failed to sell.
As is typical in evening sales, the most expensive works offered in the second tranche of works were by male blue chips artists. An 1880 landscape scene by Claude Monet, one of a swathe of examples by the Impressionist forbearer to come to auction this season, sold for £11.7 million ($14.3 million). A black and purple self-portrait by Andy Warhol from 1986 sold around its low estimate of £12.7 million ($15.5 million).
The opening slot of the second evening sale was given to Luxembourgish painter Michel Majerus, whose titular blue and yellow canvas newcomer (2020) went for £239,400 ($239,400), more than double its £100,000 low estimate. Majerus — who died in a plane crash at the age of 35 in 2002 — was the subject of a 2021 documentary that profiled his career and is set to be the focus of a forthcoming survey at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, scheduled to open in the fall.
Early in the sale was a work by Anna Weyant, a 27-year-old painter whose recent addition to Gagosian gallery’s roster as its youngest artist has grabbed the market’s attention. Several works by Weyant have hit the block in the last month, as rumors circulated that her former gallery Blum & Poe was selling her work at Sotheby’s in retaliation for the move. The painting that sold on Wednesday, a sleek still life image of a bowl of eggs, bread and plated fish titled Buffet (2020), had figured in Weyant’s 2021 Blum & Poe show in Los Angeles.
Weyant’s painting surpassed the house’s £100,000 ($120,000) low estimate. Attention from four bidders spanning London to Hong Kong moved its final up to £466,200 ($567,995). The price was still around half her $1.62 million auction record set last month.
The painting We Woke in Mourning Jus Tha Same (2017) by Christina Quarles, whose work is on view at the Venice Biennale went for £529,200 ($641,419) to an Asian buyer. The result is far below the highest prices paid for her work which have reached over $4 million in the recent past.
Five bidders competed for a 2014 bust sculpture by Simone Leigh, the winner of the Venice Biennale’s vaunted Golden Lion prize. The work sold for £617,400 ($752,209), going for more than double the high estimate of £300,000 ($363,000).
Elsewhere in the sale a 2010 canvas by Shara Hughes titled You Are My Sunshine, which depicts a dock stretching out to sea, sold for a similar price of £567,000 ($687,000), against an estimate of £200,000 ($242,000).
A new benchmark was set for Pauline Boty, known as one of the founding members of the British Pop movement in the 1960s, with the sale of her painting With Love to Jean-Paul Belmondo (1962), an orange and grey-toned rendering of the painting’s namesake French New Wave actor. Though it was produced 60 years ago, the work’s style called to mind contemporary works on sale by Hughes, Quarles and Weyant, which may have figured in the result, a record £1.2 million ($1.5 million), doubling its £500,000 ($727,000) estimate.