The London Sales

Last week’s London and beyond trio of auction house evening sales of modern and contemporary art held at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips (in that order), generated a massive £500.3/$67a.3 million bounty (including fees) and sent strong signals that the international art market remains hungry for what is perceived to be first rate, investment grade property, especially for so-called emerging artists.

The live stream artillery began at Christie’s five hour long 20th/21st Century event on March 1, ping-ponging locales from Shanghai (a first) , to London and turning in a whopping £249/$334 million result for the 94 lots sold.

Victor Man, D with Raven, oil on wood
8 1⁄2 x 6 1⁄4in. (21.5 x 16cm.)

On that emerging star front, Victor Man “D with Raven” from 2015, first shown in Berlin at Galerie Neu in 2016, surged to £214,200 (est. £20,000-30,000)

The painting was acquired in 2015 at Galeria Plan B, Berlin/Cluj, the same gallery that market star Adrian Ghenie first exhibited in in that artist run enterprise.

Flora Yukhnovich, Tu vas me faire rougir (You’re going to make me blush),
oil on linen, 84 5⁄8 x 70 7⁄8 in. (215 x 180cm.)

Estimate busting results continued with Flora Yukhnovich’s Rococo styled “Tu vas me faire rougier (You’re Going to Make me Blush)” from 2017 in oil on linen and scaled at 84 5/8 by 70 7/8 inches that raced to £1,901,000 (est. £250-350,000).

It debuted and bought directly from the artist at her MA Fine Art Show at the City Guilds of London Art School in 2017 & no doubt warranted a juicy pay day for the seller.

Stanley Whitney, Great Balls of Fire, oil on linen, 72 x 72 in. (182.8 x 182.8cm.)

“Great Balls of Fire” from 2005, a 72 inch square color-charged geometric abstraction by the until recently underappreciated and undervalued painting veteran Stanley Whitney, hit £1,482,000 (est. £400-600,000).

Franz Marc, The Foxes (Die Füchse), oil on canvas, 34 3⁄4 x 26 1⁄4 in. (88.3 x 66.4 cm.)

Price-points jumped to the stratosphere with a trio of works led by the freshly restituted and extraordinary Franz Marc Der Blaue Reiter masterpiece, ”The Foxes (Die Füchse)” from 1913 that hit a record £42.6 million (estimate on request in the region of £35 million) and guaranteed by Christie’s.

It was the property from the heirs of Berlin banker Kurt Grawi and his wife Else, victims of Nazi persecution who acquired the painting in 1928 and post seizure, and several subsequent transactions later, was gifted to the Städtische Kunstsammlung in Düsseldorf in 1962 and resided there till its repatriation in 2021.

It obliterated the previous mark set by “Weidnede Pferde III  (Grazing horses III) ” from 1910 that sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2008 for £12,340,500/$24,369,076.

Francis Bacon, Triptych 1986-7,
78 x 58in. (198 x 147.5cm.)

In descending order from that stunning result, Francis Bacon’s strangely mated “Triptych 1986-87”, featuring from left to right, the photo sourced image of President Woodrow Wilson in top hat exiting at Versailles, the contorted figure of Bacon’s lover John Edwards in the center panel and the blood stained Mexico City studio of assassinated revolutionary Leon Trotsky and also backed by a guarantee, made a single bid £38,459,206 (est. £35-55 million).

It was first reported by Artnet as sold from the collection of starchitect Norman Foster and debuted at the artist’s Marlborough Gallery solo in 1987 with the Wilson panel on the catalogue cover.

The current “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” exhibition at The Royal Academy didn’t appear to rouse bidding.

Lucian Freud, Girl with Closed Eyes
oil on canvas, 18 1⁄4 x 23 3⁄4in. (46.3 x 60.4cm.)

Lucian Freud’s identically dated but petite scaled “Girl with Closed Eyes,” featuring the cropped face and nude torso image of fellow artist and muse Janey Longman, hit a hotly competed £15,174,500 (est. £10-15 million), the eighth highest price for the artist at auction.

Other highlights in the London/Shanghai express included Pablo Picasso’s “La Fenetre Ouverte” from 1929 appearing in its auction debut and featuring his then still secret lover and muse Marie-Therese Walter, sold for £15,174,500 (est. £14-24 million) and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s prime time 1982 canvas, “Il Duce” that made a middling £11.2 million (est. £9.5-14.2 million).

Remarkably or so it seems, the Basquiat last appeared at Christie’s New York in November 2017 when it bought in against a house guarantee and pre-sale estimate of $25-35 million, resulting in quite the haircut for Christie’s.

Sotheby’s London two-part and back to back “The Now Evening Auction” and “Modern & Contemporary Art on March 2nd realized a combined tally of £221.4/$297.2 million, the highest tally, according to Sotheby’s for a single day sale in Europe.

In mirror-like performances to Christie’s the evening before, [lot 4] Flora Yukhnavich’s fleshy “Warm, Wet ‘N’ Wild” painting from 2020 that debuted at Victoria Miro Gallery in London that year and similarly scaled at 82 ¾ by 70 7/8 inches, hit a record £2,697,000 (est. £150-200,000) and [lot 21] Stanley Whitney’s oil on linen and boldly hued “Night Watch” from 2012 went for £1,729,000 (est. £300-500,000).

It was acquired by the seller in 2015 from Galleri Opdahl in Stavanger Norway, well before Whitney shot to critical and market fame.

Hurvin Anderson, Lower Lake III, oil on canvas, 150.5 by 256 cm. (59¼ by 100¾ in.)

In that same elevated vein, Hurvin Anderson’s melancholic composition, “Lower Lake III” from 2006, inspired in part by Romantic painter Arnold Böcklin, sold for £2,818,000 (est. £1-1.5 million) and Hilary Pecis’s straight forward and rather unremarkable still life, “Fish and Bird” from 2019, executed in acrylic on canvas, sold for a buoyant £942,500 (est. £100-150,000).

Hilary Pecis, Fish and Bird, acrylic on canvas, 127 by 101.6 cm. (50 by 40 in.)

It was last exhibited at London’s Timothy Taylor’s virtual exhibition, “Dwelling is the Light” in April 2020.

Women artists obviously continued their market elevation with Cecily Brown’s busy and richly layered “Faeriefeller” from 2019, evocative of Victorian fairy paintings and scaled at 71 by 67 inches that made £2,919,000 (est. £2.2-2.8 million).

It came to market backed by an unbeatable financial cocktail of an ‘irrevocable bid’ and house guarantee.

Cecily Brown, Faeriefeller, oil on linen, 180.3 by 170 cm. (71 by 67 in.)

After a fifteen minute break from the 22 lot The Now opener and change of auctioneers (from Oliver Barker to Helena Newman), the modern and contemporary segment of the double-header started with highlights such as Claude Monet’s close-up, purple hued Giverny garden subject, “Nympheas” from 1914-17 and medium-scaled at 51 3/8 by 39 3/8 inches that reached £23,228,500/$31.2 million (est. £15-20 million).

Claude Monet, Nymphéas, oil on canvas, 130.5 by 100cm. (51⅜ by 39⅜ in.)

The painting came to market stamped Claude Monet, meaning the artist never signed it and had remained in his studio until his death. Given the strength and hunger of the current market, such details, once considered critical to connoisseurs, fall to the wayside.

A. Alfred Taubman, the one-time owner and chairman of Sotheby’s and long before his downfall and imprisonment for auction house collusion, was an early owner and prior to it entering a private Japanese collection.

A darkly atmospheric and appropriately so Pablo Picasso, “Buste de femme accoudée, gris et blanc” from war torn Paris, dated December 31, 1938 and scaled at 24 by 19 ¾ inches, came armed with an irrevocable bid and sold for £11,968,300(est. £10-15 million).

René Magritte, L’empire des lumières, oil on canvas, 114.5 by 146cm., (45 by 57½ in.)

Spare fireworks were saved for the stunning and large-scaled Rene Magritte day for night composition, “L’Empire des Lumières” from 1961, with its inky, nighttime street scene and brilliant blue sky that the artist painted for his Belgian patron, Anne-Marie Grillion Crowet, sold for a record shattering £59,422,000/$79.8 million. (unpublished estimate).

It ranks as the highest price in GBP for a painting in Europe (a Giacometti sculpture, “L’homme qui marche 1” from 1961 made £65/$103.9 million at the house in February 2010) and this Magritte obliterated the previous mark set by “Le Principe du Plaisir” from 1937 that sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2018 for $26.8 million.

Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Art evening sale on March 3 generated £29.9/$40.1 million against pre-sale expectations (before fees) of £24,450,000-35,360,000 and only two of the 41 lots offered failed to find buyers.

The most remarkable aspect of the sale was the house’s current events decision to earmark its total buyer’s premium and vendor’s commissions to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society, that rose to the unprecedented tune of £5.8 million.

It goes without saying that Phillips is 100 percent Russian owned by the luxury enterprise Mercury Group and there’s no telling at this time if that potential ‘handicap’ will impede or affect future consignments and or sales.

Lauren Quin, Airsickness,
oil on canvas, 127 x 229 cm (50 x 90 1/8 in.)

Phillips’ hard-earned reputation as the launching pad for emerging artists stayed the course with Lauren Quin’s auction debut, psychedelic-charged “Airsickness” from 2021, comprised of slinky and snaking tube forms that fetched a whopping £441,000 ( est. £ 30-50,000).

Jadé Fadojutimi, My Blanket has a Possessive Nature, oil on canvas, 180.5 x 180.7 cm (71 1/8 x 71 1/8 in.)

That hunger for the new continued with Jade Fadojutimi’s autobiographical “My Blanket has a possessive nature” from 2018 and scaled at 71 1/8 by 71 1/8 inches. It made an estimate crushing £529,200 (est. £120-180,000).

It wasn’t a fluke since a second Fadojutimi, “A cropped perspective of this whirlwind effect” from 2020, executed in oil and oil stick on canvas, shot to £627,500 (est. £150-200,000).

In that same high octane vein, Shara Hughes’ vivid abstraction in acrylic, oil and dye on canvas and scaled at 69 by 61 inches from 2017, hit £627,500 (est. £180-250,000).

Seven figure ressults included David Hockney’s jumbo-scaled, two-part California dreaming composition, “Self Portrait on the Terrace” from 1984, depicting his beloved Hollywood Hills environs that realized £4,862,500 (est. £4-6 million) and Cecily Brown’s third party backed “When Time Ran Out” from 2016 in oil on linen and measuring 77 by 97 inches, brought £3,168,500 (Est. £2-3 million).

The full-force composition is a kind of ode/reinterpretation of Jean-Louis Théodore Gericault’s magnificent masterpiece, “Le Radeau de la Médusa” from 1818-19 that lives at the Louvre.

The early March series of sales confirmed and underscored the art market’s seemingly bullet-proof status in a world stung and shocked by Russia’s all-out war waged against a sovereign nation.

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