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20th Century at Christie’s and Defining British Art: A record-breaking 16 days

The series of 10 sales achieves a total of £212.5 million while setting new auction records for 20 artists

20th Century at Christie’s and Defining British Art concluded on 30 June, with the series of ten sales having achieved a total of £212,545,850/$291,370,503 and establishing new auction records for 20 artists, including Bernard Buffet, Lynn Chadwick, Frederic Lord Leighton, Henry Moore, Bridget Riley and Sean Scully

A highlight of the season was Defining British Art, a cross-category evening sale celebrating Christie’s 250th anniversary year, which achieved £99,479,500. The auction was led by Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951, which sold for £24,722,500 / $33,103,428, setting the record for the most expensive British sculpture ever sold at auction.

Sales of Post-War and Contemporary Art realised an overall total of £83,148,525 / $111,177,611, with Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 29 June achieving exceptional sell-through rates of 92 per cent by lot and 98 per cent by value. The trend continued in the 30 June Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction, which sold 90 per cent by lot and 93 per cent by value, establishing three artist records.

The top work for the Post-War and Contemporary Art category, sold as part of Defining British Art, was Francis Bacon’s Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe (1968), which achieved £20,242,500 / $27,104,708. Additional highlights in the category included eight works by Jean-Michel Basquiat from the Collection of Johnny Depp, which met with competitive bidding in both Evening and Day auctions. Executed in 1981, the artist’s Untitled (Plush Safe He Think) was the highest-selling lot in the Post War and Contemporary Art Day sale. 

Modern British & Irish Art and Impressionist & Modern sales achieved a combined total of £95,858,325 / $135,283,171, with the former category demonstrating an increasingly global appeal, with bidding from Europe, Asia and America. The Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 22 June welcomed registered bidders from 34 countries across four continents, with a record set for Bernard Buffet’s Les Clowns Musiciens, Le Saxophoniste, 1991.

Online and live sales offered opportunities for both new and established collectors across the globe. With prices beginning at £500, Impressionist & Modern Art at Christie’s South Kensington offered opportunities for new collectors, while also establishing a world record for Camille Bombois, whose circa 1935 work, La Blonde sur le Pouf, realised £122,500 / $166,845. An online-only sale, Picasso Ceramics sold 100 per cent by value, demonstrating the growing reach of Christie’s digital platforms.

Sales attracted registered bidders from 75 countries across six continents, confirming the global and ongoing appeal of collecting, and reflecting the international scope of works offered. Christie’s achieved seven of the top ten auction prices for the season across all houses, underlining its leading position in the market — a status confirmed by strong overall sell-through rates of 82 per cent by value and 81 per cent by lot.