10 auction highlights from the first half of 2016

A look back at some of the artworks and objects that have lit up Christie’s salerooms between January and June this year

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  • March – Dubai: Now and Ten

Omar El-Nagdi, Sarajevo, 1992. Oil on canvas in three parts. Sold for $1,145,000 AED 4,162,075 — World auction record for the artist 

Omar El-Nagdi, Sarajevo, 1992. Oil on canvas in three parts. Sold for: $1,145,000/ AED 4,162,075 — World auction record for the artist 

No fewer than 18 new world auction records were added in the Now and Ten auction to mark the 10th anniversary of Christie’s Dubai. In an energetic saleroom, collectors competed fiercely with phone and internet bidders for works of art sourced privately or from artists’ estates. The top lot of the evening was Sarajevo (1992) by Egyptian master Omar El-Nagdi (b.1931), in which the artist transcribes literally the chaos of war, isolating each disproportioned figure onto the canvas yet bringing them all together through the shared agony expressed in their faces. El-Nagdi’s figures appear inhuman and sometimes resemble animals more closely than people: the sufferings of war having stripped them of their humanity and dignity. Consigned by a French private collector, the work was bought by a Lebanese private collector for nearly twice its high estimate.

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  • March – London, South Kensington: Modern British & Irish Art

The Modern British & Irish Art sale at Christie’s South Kensington in March included two early paintings by Irish artist Tony O’Malley which, when turned over and joined together, reveal a ‘lost’ unfinished nude by Francis Bacon. Bacon started Figure when working in St Ives, Cornwall in the late 1950s, but after cutting short his visit following an argument with his partner he abandoned the painting, among many others. The work was divided into two by O’Malley, who went on to paint two scenes on the reverse sides. For years these works were separated, residing in the collections of two different owners. Estimated at £20,000-30,000, they sold for £434,500. Read more

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  • April – Milan: Modern and Contemporary

The annual Milan Modern and Contemporary auction achieved more than €15 million, with 91 per cent sold by lot and 92 per cent sold by value. The top lot of the evening was Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa from 1983. Of all of Boetti’s many diverse creations, his Mappe, or World Maps, are the simplest and most elegant encapsulation of the part-mystical, part-conceptual aesthetic that informed the artist’s work from the late 1960s until his death in 1994. In recent years, they have increasingly come to be seen as powerful and prophetic icons of the fluid, globalised state of the world in the 21st century. ‘Palazzo Clerici buzzed with competitive bidding between buyers from a dozen countries,’ commented Renato Pennisi, Head of Sale, after Mappe passed its high estimate to sell for €1,387,200.

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  • May – New York: Impressionist & Modern Art

Frida Kahlo, Dos Desnudos en el Bosque (La Tierra Misma), 1939. Oil on metal. Sold for: $8,005,000 / £5,551,318 — World auction record for the artist. © 2016 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The series of sales that made up New York’s inaugural 20th Century Week  totalled almost $658 million / £456 million, and confirmed Christie’s market leadership of the major spring auctions. Collector demand at the top end of the market was underscored by record prices across the week, including the $8,005,000 paid for this work by Frida Kahlo. ‘We are particularly proud of the result achieved for Dos Desnudos en el Bosque, which set the world auction record for Frida Kahlo and became the highest price for any work by a Latin American artist,’ commented Brooke Lampley, Head of Impressionist & Modern Art at Christie’s New York. Read more

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  • May – London, King Street: Shakespeare: The First Four Folios

Video: Books and Manuscripts specialist Meg Ford inspects Shakespeare’s First Folio

Christie’s commemorated the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) with a landmark sale, offering the first four Folios of his collected works in a special four-lot auction in London on 25 May. The sale was led by an unrecorded copy of the First Folio — the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, and widely considered to be the most important literary publication in the English language. The First Folio contains 36 plays — 18 of which had not previously been printed, and which would otherwise have been lost for ever — and sold for more than twice its low estimate. Read more

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  • June – Paris: Sculpture et Objets d’Art Européens

The highlight of the European Sculpture and Works of Art  auction in Paris was the sale of the last two figures of Mourners from the tomb of Jean de France (1340-1416), duc de Berry and brother of King Charles V (1338-1380). The figures were executed by Jean de Cambrai (known from 1375 to 1438), one of the most important sculptors of his time. Two alabaster figures of Mourners from the same tomb sold for more than €4 million in November 2013, marking a significant milestone. ‘This sale offers a unique opportunity to acquire the last two marble Mourners from the same collection,’ commented Isabelle d’Amécourt, Head of the European Sculpture and Works of Art department, before these treasures of medieval statuary sold for more than €500,000 above their low estimate. 

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  • May – New York: Post-War and Contemporary Art

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982. Acrylic on canvas. Sold for: $57,285,000 / £39,726,075 — World auction record for the artist

‘Untitle is a remarkably powerful canvas which instantly engulfs any viewer in its presence,’ said Brett Gorvy, Christie’s International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, of the epic Jean-Michel Basquiat painting that led the May Evening Sale in New York, which realized a total of $318,388,000 / £220,796,117. Executed in Modena, Italy, in the prime year of Basquiat’s short but brilliant career, Untitled (1982) is monumental in size while its visceral energy marks it out as one of the artist’s seminal works. After breaking the world auction record for a work by Basquiat, Gorvy noted that the painting had been the subject of ‘intense competition that dispelled questions of a market contraction’. The work was acquired by a collector in Asia, which, said Gorvy, underlined the global scope of the masterpiece market. Read more

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  • May – Geneva: Magnificent Jewels

The Oppenheimer Blue — a sensational coloured diamond ring. Sold for $58,002,681 — World auction record for a jewel 
The Oppenheimer Blue — a sensational coloured diamond ring. Sold for: $58,002,681 — World auction record for a jewel 

‘During my 47 years at Christie’s I’ve been lucky enough to have handled and auctioned some of the world’s most legendary blue diamonds,’ said François Curiel when introducing the exceptional Oppenheimer Blue. Weighing 14.62 carats, the largest Vivid Blue diamond ever to come to auction inspired an extraordinary 25 minutes of bidding in the Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva, before selling for more than $58 million — a world record for any jewel at auction. ‘Selling the Oppenheimer Blue diamond was a real privilege and the result proves that there is still a strong demand for high-end quality stones,’ remarked a delighted Rahul Kadakia, International Head of Christie’s Jewellery Department. Watch video

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  • May – Hong Kong: 30 Years: The Sale

A magnificent very rare large blue and white ‘Dragon’ Jar. Sold for HK$158,040,000  $20,447,642 

A magnificent very rare large blue and white ‘Dragon’ Jar. Sold for: HK$158,040,000 / $20,447,642 

This monumental dragon jar came from a private French family collection and was passed by descent through to the consignor, who kept it in her home and used it to hold walking sticks. The jar was made in the reign of the Xuande Emperor (1426-35), a period which is generally regarded by connoisseurs as the high point of Chinese blue and white porcelain production, when enthusiastic imperial patronage, technical ingenuity and inspired artistry combined to create some of the most impressive porcelain in China’s long ceramic history. The top lot in 30 Years: The Sale, a white-glove auction to mark Christie’s anniversary in Hong Kong, this remarkable vessel sold for just over HK$158 million, almost double its high estimate. Watch video

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  • June – London, King Street: Defining British Art

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951. Bronze with a brown patina. Sold for: £24,722,500 / $33,103,428 — World auction record for the artist

Described as ‘one of the great masterpieces of Henry Moore’s œuvre’ by Cyanna Chutkow, Christie’s Deputy Chairman of Impressionist & Modern Art, Reclining Figure: Festival  had been held privately in an American collection for almost a half century. One of eight works to establish a world auction record in Defining British Art, a special 250th anniversary sale celebrating four centuries of British art, it produced a bidding battle which climaxed when the work was sold for £24,722,500. This was not only a new world auction record for Moore, but also a new record for the most expensive British sculpture ever to be sold at auction. The Defining British Art  sale totalled just short of £99.5 million, with 87 per cent of the lots sold at 83 per cent by value. Read more