Sotheby’s Has a Strong Lead-Off Night in London
Francis Bacon's "Three Studios for Portrait of George Dyer (On Light Ground)," 1964, estimated at £15,000,000-20,000,000.

Francis Bacon’s “Three Studios for Portrait of George Dyer (On Light Ground),” 1964, estimated at £15,000,000-20,000,000.

LONDON — Powered in large part by a rare to market Francis Bacon triptych, Sotheby’s lead-off contemporary evening sale charged to £93,147,500/$158,490,471. The tally, including the added on buyer’s premium, exceeded pre-sale expectations of £67.9-89.7/$115.5-142.8 million. Estimates do not reflect premiums.

Eight of the 58 lots offered failed to find buyers for a trim buy-in rate of 14 percent. The result exceeded last June’s £75.7/$116.8 million result for 53 sold lots in the same category. Twenty-one of the 51 lots sold for over a million pounds and 29 sold for over a million dollars.

Four records were set, including a hotly contested Adrian Ghenie figurative painting, “The Fake Rothko” from 2010, featuring the artist slumped over a studio couch with blood flowing from the red canvas (lot 35). It sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for £1,426,500/$2,427,190 (est. £250-350,000).

The feel good evening got off to a jaunty start with 11 guaranteed works from a cutting edge New York collection bundled under the catchy title “Ahead of the Curve: The Sender Collection,” including (lot 1) Urs Fischer’s jumbo scaled “Youyou,” comprised of two galvanized cast bronze screws, one bent and one straight, from 2004-12 that sold for £338,500/$575,958 (est. £200-300,000).

Last month in New York, 19 other guaranteed works from Adam Sender, a former hedge fund manager, made $44.6 million in that evening sale.

Tonight, the take was a more modest £4.4 million as another Sender highlight, (lot 2) Rosemarie Trockel’s ominous skull over plaid knitted work, “O.T. (Death’s Heads)” from 1990, and also large-scaled at 78 ¾ by 59 inches, sold for £482,500/$820,974. (est. £500-700,000).

Also rich in YBA (Young British Artists) material, Sender’s (lot 5) Chris Ofili painting, “Blue Riders” from 2006, inspired by the Modernist Der Blaue Reiter group, sold for £290,500/$494,286 (£150-200,000) and (lot 4) Damien Hirst’s “Kingdom of Heaven” painting from the same year, comprised of butterflies and household high-gloss paint, hit £1,082,500/$1,841,874 (est. £600-800,000).

The Sender carousel continued with (lot 10) Cindy Sherman’s grotesque, fairy-tale inspired “Untitled #145,” a 72 ½ by 49 ½ inch color photograph from an edition of six from 1985 that went for £302,500/$514,704. (est. £350-450,000).

The color yellow seemed to be in unusual evidence as a smallish scaled (lot 12) Gerhard Richter from a European private collection, “Abstraktes Bild (845-3)” from 1997, executed in oil on a composite board called Alu Dibond and featured in the Venice Biennale from the same year, sold for £2,546,500/$4,332,500 (est. £1.8-2.5 million).

Andy Warhol’s unmistakable (lot 13) “Dollar Sign (Yellow)” from 1981, large-scaled at 90 by 70 inches and featured in the Leo Castelli Gallery dollar sign exhibition of Warhols the same year, made £4,002,500/$6,810,254 (est. £3-4 million). It carried a so-called “irrevocable bid,” meaning a third-party backer insured the piece would make an undisclosed price no matter what reception it received in the salesroom. The painting was stamped on the back by both the Warhol estate and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts but not signed by the artist, a factor that sometimes negatively influences the price. Another Warhol, (lot 43) “Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series)” from 1979-86, sold to another telephone for £4,562,500/$7,763,094.

The star offering of the evening and possibly the standout painting of the season, Francis Bacon’s electrifying (lot 15) “Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on light ground)” from 1964, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder after a fierce bidding battle for £26,682,500/$45,400,274 (est. £15-20 million). Bidding opened at £12.5 million and quickly jumped at £500,000 increments until around £21 million, when the pace cut back to £250,000. Auctioneer Oliver Barker smoothly rode out the bidding battle like a jockey on a thoroughbred horse.

Helena Newman, Sotheby’s seasoned Impressionist and Modern specialist, took the winning phone bid while Patti Wong, the Hong Kong-based chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, was part of the posse of underbidders.

The exquisite triptych, with each 14 by 12 inch oil on canvas framed behind glass, depicts the artist’s lover and muse, arguably the most important subject in Bacon’s oeuvre apart from his celebrated series on popes. It has been tucked away in a Milanese private collection since 1970 and was featured in a traveling Bacon retrospective in 1999 and again in 2008 at Palazzo Reale in Milan.

Wearing a light colored sweater with a crisp white collar showing, the head and shoulders view of Dyer is dramatically different in each swirling canvas, making him appear almost savage-like with a spiky crown of brown hair. Dyer committed suicide in a Paris hotel room two days before Bacon’s retrospective opened at the Grand Palais, in 1971. Other versions of the triptych reside in Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Bacon made some 40 portraits of Dyer, and this example was done during the first year of their meeting, when Bacon caught Dyer red-handed, burglarizing his home in Reece Mews. Dyer was 29 at the time and Bacon was 54.

It is based on a small group of black and white photographs capturing Dyer on a Soho London street corner by John Deakin, his drinking partner and one of Bacon’s key cronies since the artist never painted from life but always from photographs.

“I find it easier to work,” Bacon told critic David Sylvester for a monograph published in 2000, “than actually having their presence in the room.”

Two other Bacons were also in the mix, including (lot 28) “Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1” from 1957, featuring an earlier lover and muse, Peter Lacy, lying nude with legs bent against a white pillow, sold to an unidentified buyers in the packed salesroom for £4,450,500/$7,572,526 (est. £3.8-4.5 million) and (lot 30) the “(Seated Man)” from 1957-58, a tamer work of his sadistic lover Lacy, suited and seated cross-legged on a high-backed couch, sold to Conor Macklin of London’s Grosvenor Gallery for £2,098,500/$3,570,598 (est. £1.5-2 million).

None of the Bacons were guaranteed.

Peter Doig’s high-speed cover (lot 27), “Country-rock (wing-mirror)” from 1999, considered to be one of his major cinematic styled landscapes and never before at auction, sold to another anonymous telephone for a record £8,482,500/$14,432,974 (est. on request in the region of £9 million). The guaranteed painting beat the previous mark set last month at Christie’s New York by “Road House” from 1991, which made $11,925,000 (est. $9.5-1.5 million). Counting tonight, six Doig paintings have sold for over $10 million at auction.

The painting debuted at Doig’s breakout solo, “Wing Mirror,” at the Gavin Brown Enterprise in New York the year it was painted and when it was acquired by the seller.

Viewed as it were from the passenger side of a speeding automobile on a highway outside of Toronto, where the Scottish-born artist lived for a time, it captures a famed local landmark of a rainbow colored tunnel entrance, painted by an obsessed local (Berg Johnson) countless times from 1972 onwards until he was eventually banned by the local authorities from the vicinity of the site. The park authorities considered it vandalism and apparently grew tired of painting it over. Today it is venerated and maintained by volunteers.

Two other large-scale versions of the Don Valley Parkway rainbow exist, one of them residing at the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev while the other version was shown in Doig’s retrospective at Tate Britain in 2008. “Tunnel Passing (Country-rock),” a smaller and later version from 2000, sold at Sotheby’s London in June 2010 for £265,350/$399,617.

On the Italian Post-War front, (lot 53) Piero Manzoni’s “Achrome” from 1959-60, in kaolin on sewn canvas, sold to Nicolo Cardi of Milan’s Cardi Gallery for £554,500/$943,482 (est. £500-700,000) and (lot 25) Lucio Fontana’s violently slashed “Concetto Spaziale” from 1966 also sold to Cardi for £902,500/$1,535,604 (est. £800,000-1.million). The Manzoni last sold Christie’s London back in October 2007, for £378,000.

“Finally, I had some luck as a buyer,” said Cardi as he exited the salesroom, “and like a good Italian, I support the Italian artists.”

Cardi, a frequent bidder in the contemporary sales, wasn’t kidding, also nabbing (lot 19) Michelangelo Pistoletto’s “Untitled” screen print of two standing figures on mirror-like polished stainless steel for £422,500/$718,884 (est. £350-450,000).

Another serial buyer tonight was New York’s Dominique Levy Gallery, which snared four lots, including Louise Bourgeois’s sexy (lot 54) “Untitled” polished black marble sculpture from 1990, which sold for £830,500/$1,413,096 (Est. £500-700,000).

Of the two works by Yves Klein, (lot 16) “Untitled Fire Color Painting (FC 28)” from 1962, in dry pigment and resin on burnt cardboard, scorched the room at £3,218,500/$5,476,278 (est. £1-1.5 million).

In his London evening sale debut (lot 38), David Ostrowski’s mostly white abstraction interrupted by a streaking blue line, “F (Dann Lieber Nein)” from 2011 in lacquer, spray paint, and wood on canvas, fetched £122,500/$208,434 (est. £30-50,000). Another “F” painting from the series sold last month at Phillips New York day sale for a record $281,000 (est. $50-70,000). This season, both Christie’s and Phillips have an Ostrowski in their evening sales.

Like Jacob Kassay, Oscar Murillo, and Lucien Smith, these early auction outings reflect in part rampant speculation on the futures of promising young artists.

Wade Guyton, a wildly successful veteran from that scrum, sagged a bit this evening with his flame patterned “Untitled” work from 2008 (lot 39), generated by an Epson UltraChrome inkjet printer on linen, sold shy of its estimate for £1,426,500/$2,427,190 (est. £1.8-2.4 million).

There were some other seeming bargains as Jean-Michel Basquiat’s late but nervy (lot 44) “At Large” canvas from 1984 sold to Abigail Asher of New York/Los Angeles art advisory Guggenheim Asher Associates, for £1,762,500/$2,998,894 (est. £800,000-1.2 million).

It last sold here (Sotheby’s London) in June 2007 for £748,000.

“We just thought it was a very attractive piece,” said Asher as she departed the salesroom, “and we didn’t want to see an opportunity pass by. For opportunities and great things, the market is absolutely solid on both ends of that spectrum.”

The evening action for this still torrid market resumes at Christie’s Tuesday evening.

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