It was an intense week of elation, expectation, and no small amount of drama in the Rockefeller Center saleroom of Christie’s New York. As totals for both the Post-War and Contemporary and Impressionist and Modern Art categories have soared ever higher in recent seasons, the possibility of breaking the billion-dollar ceiling was a question on nearly all industry watchers’ minds. Now, the inquirers can be satisfied.
After five days of evening, day and online only sales, Christie’s broke new ground and numerous records with a historic $1,726,019,375. But in addition to the total figure, the week brought the coveted world record for any work sold at auction in addition to many others established for works sold by artists both living and passed, creating an extraordinary numbers game: 147 lots sold for over $1 million, 31 lots sold for over $10 million, 18 lots sold for over $20 million, 7 lots sold for over $50 million, and 2 for over $100 million, as well as category totals of $984.5 million for Post-War and Contemporary works and $741.5 million for Impressionist and Modern Art.
View Full Results: Looking Forward to the Past / Post-War and Contemporary Art / Impressionist and Modern Art
‘Our much heralded total is only part of the story,’ says global president of Christie’s Jussi Pylkkanen. Going on to speak of two of the week’s highest earning lots, he continued, ‘There were 40 bids above $100 million for the Picasso on Monday night and over 45 bids for the Rothko on Wednesday. This is a rich, deep market in which masterpieces elicit the greatest competition, attracting high-level buyers from all over the world.’
The week’s opening gambit was Monday night’s Looking Forward to the Past, a cross-category event organised by Loic Gouzer, international specialist of Post-War and Contemporary Art, intended to showcase the artistic achievements of the 20th century. The sale innovation, which Pylkkanen says will be the sort Christie’s will continue with ‘to inspire the art collecting public’, brought a stunning $705,858,000 on 35 lots.
From Claude Monet to Alfred Giacometti, Pablo Picasso and Peter Doig, the Looking Forward to the Past curated evening sale presented top-quality works from both Impressionist and Modern and Post-War and Contemporary Art categories in a new context.
The star offering — Pablo Picasso’s 1955 Les Femmes d’Alger, a tribute to the 1834 canvas of the same name by Eugene Delacroix — perfectly examplified Gouzer’s curatorial ambition to expose the connection between Modernism and the contemporary practices that evolved at the century’s close. It also brought the $179,365,000 price for the most valuable work ever sold at auction, a record Pylkkanen has speculated could hold for as long as a decade.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Les femmes d’Alger (Version 'O'), 1955 achieved $179,365,000, the the most valuable work ever sold at auction. Watch saleroom video
The sale’s penultimate lot was Alberto Giacometti's L’homme au doigt which fetched $141,285,000, surpassing the previous world record for a sculpture at auction by nearly $37 million. Picasso’s Buste de Femme, 1938, which brought $81,957,000, and Mark Rothko’s important No. 36 (Black Stripe) from 1958, which realised $40,485,000, hold the sale’s third and fourth top spots. Eight other artist records included those for works by Peter Doig (Swamped, 1990; $25,925,000), Cady Noland (Bluewald, 1989; $9,797,000), and Diane Arbus (Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C., 1962; $785,000).
Bidders from 48 different countries registered to participate in Christie’s New York sale week, creating an electric atmosphere of competition that grew and gained momentum over the course of the sale week. Giacometti’s L’homme au doigt (Pointing Man) achieved $141,285,000, setting a new record for any sculpture sold at auction. Watch saleroom video
View Full Results: Looking Forward to the Past
Rothko continued to dazzle in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Wednesday night with No. 10, also of 1958, a luminescent copper composition that seems to glow from within the picture plane. It was the sale’s top lot at $81,925,000. But before that pinnacle, 19 works from the collection of legendary dealer Illeana Sonnabend and her daughter, the late Nina Castelli Sundell, set the pace, starting with a bidding war that achieved $6.4 million for Giovanni Anselmo’s Torsione, 1968, soaring past its $800,000 high estimate. The Sonnabend-Sundell holdings accounted for $60.1 million — more than twice the collection’s estimate — of the sale’s $658,532,000 total. Lucian Freud’s commanding Benefits Supervisor Resting of 1994, flaunting the ample figure of one of the painter’s most famous sitters, Sue Tilley, broke the artist’s previous 2008 record of $33.6 million, fetching $56,165,000.
Mark Rothko (1903-1970), No. 10, 1958. Oil on canvas. Sold for $81,925,000.
Earning that same price was Andy Warhol’s Colored Mona Lisa, 1963, inspired by the Renaissance masterwork’s trip to the United States at the behest of the Kennedy administration. Warhol’s One Dollar, 1961, was also responsible for achieving the auction record for a work on paper with its $5,317,000 price. Similarly exceptional was the $20,605,000 record price fetched for Robert Ryman’s Bridge, 1980; Elaine Sturtevant’s Warhol Diptych, 1973, which sold for $5,093,000; and Rudolph Stingel’s Untitled, 1993, which brought a record $4,757,000.
View Full Results: Post-War and Contemporary Art
Global bidders were key to the sales’ success and those hailing from 34 countries created a sell-through rate of 93 percent by lot and 99 percent by value for Thursday night’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale, which realised $202,608,000.
Leading the way was Piet Modrian’s Composition No. III (Composition with Red, Blue, Yellow, and Black) of 1929, which fetched $50,565,000 and an auction record for the artist. Twenty-two lots from the collection of John C. Whitehead, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs, realised $72,587,250. The property included Amedeo Modigliani’s Portrait de Beatrice Hastings, 1916, which achieved $16,069,000, and Chaim Soutine’s La Communiant (La Mariee), circa 1924, which brought more than five time its low estimate at $15,621,000. Other star lots on the night included Claude Monet’s Les Meules a Giverny, 1885, which brought $16,405,000, and Edgar Degas’s Trois danseuses, circa 1900, which sold for $11,925,000.
Auctioneer, International Director, Andreas Rumbler auctions Piet Mondrian’s (1872-1944), Composition No. III, with Red, Blue, Yellow, and Black, 1929, which sold for $50,565,000 (total is hammer price plus buyer’s premium). Watch saleroom video
View Full Results: Impressionist and Modern Art
‘By creating a single focused sale week, led by an exciting cross-category approach, we encouraged both new collectors and established buyers to look at our offerings in a new context,’ says Pylkkanen, who wielded the gavel for two of the sales. As he remarked on the podium after hammering in the record-breaking Picasso, ‘We're in new territory.’
The London sales of Impressionist and Modern Art, Post-War and Contemporary Art begin June 23.
Learn More: Impressionist and Modern Art / Post-War and Contemporary Art
For more features, interviews and videos, see our Christie’s Daily homepage