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Twombly’s Leda and the Swan leads on a stellar night in New York

The Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale totals $448 million, as the running total for 20th Century Week at Christie’s passes the $766.5 million mark

The Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale  at Christie’s New York totalled $448,062,000, with sell-through rates of 96 per cent by lot and 99 per cent by value. This brought the running total for the 20th Century Week  season to $766,562,000, with more auctions still to come.

Video: Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer realised $51,767,500

Leading the sale was Cy Twombly’s Leda and the Swan  from 1962, the sister painting of one of the most popular works in the permanent collection at MoMA. Unseen in public for more than 25 years, this heady mix of mythology, sex and violence sold for $52,887,500 (including buyer’s premium) after a contest between five bidders.


Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan, 1962. Sold for $52,887,500 in the Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 17 May 2017 at Christie’s in New York
Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan, 1962. Sold for $52,887,500 in the Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 17 May 2017 at Christie’s in New York

The second highest price of the night came with Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963), the artist’s first portrait of his long-time muse and lover, which realised $51,767,500. Offered at auction for the very first time, the triptych was once in the collection of the author Roald Dahl, who became a great admirer of Bacon’s work after first encountering his paintings at a touring exhibition in 1958.


Rounding out the top five lots in the sale were La Hara, an extraordinary painting to emerge from 1981, the legendary first year of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s mature oeuvre. The work sold for $34,967,500. 

Roy Lichtenstein’s Red and White Brushstrokes (1965), a quintessential Pop painting that questions fundamental beliefs about the artistic process, sold for $28,247,500, while Andy Warhol’s Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable), 1962, an early hand-painted work from a series that changed the face of 20th-century art, realised $27,500,000.
 


Sigmar Polke (1941-2010), Frau mit Butterbrot. Casein, household lacquer and oil on canvas, 63 x 55 in (160 x 140 cm). Sold for $17,047,500 in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 17 May 2017, at Christie’s in New York

Sigmar Polke (1941-2010), Frau mit Butterbrot. Casein, household lacquer and oil on canvas, 63 x 55 in (160 x 140 cm). Sold for $17,047,500 in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 17 May 2017, at Christie’s in New York

A host of world auction records were set on a night of competitive bidding from clients across the world. Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (S III Released to France Face 43.14), 2011, shattered the previous record for the artist ($6,522,000, set in 2015) when it sold for $16,767,500. Untitled (after Sam) by Rudolf Stingel easily passed the existing auction record for the artist, going for $10,551,500, as did Robert Gober’s Untitled, which sold for $5,287,500. Footmen  by David Salle passed the previous auction high for the artist, selling for $583,500. 


Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997), Red and White Brushstrokes, 1965. Oil and Magna on canvas. 48 × 68 in (121.9 × 172.7 cm). Sold for $28,247,500 in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 17 May at Christies in New York. © Estate of Roy LichtensteinDACS 2017. 
Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997), Red and White Brushstrokes, 1965. Oil and Magna on canvas. 48 × 68 in (121.9 × 172.7 cm). Sold for $28,247,500 in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 17 May at Christie's in New York. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2017. 

The success of collections in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale  on Monday night continued, with all 25 works offered from the Emily and Jerry Spiegel Collection selling for a total of $116,067,500, with more being offered in Thursday’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sales. Highlights from the collection included Sigmar Polke’s Frau mit Butterbrot  (1964), and Christopher Wool’s Untitled  (1988), which realised $17,047,500 and $17,159,500 respectively.

The 11 works from the Zadig & Voltaire Collection, an extraordinary selection of works existing at a crossroads of art, music and fashion, totalled $16,540,000, led by Untitled  (2012) by Rudolf Stingel, a monumental gold panel made up of four parts, which realised $6,743,500.

The final works donated by Sydell Miller to benefit Cleveland Clinic — Expressionist Head, a 1980 sculpture by Roy LichtensteinJean Dubuffet’s Le Truand and Breasted Woman  by Louise Bourgeois — brought the total of her remarkable gift to $67,490,000.

‘If we needed proof of the strength of the art market, we have it. If we needed proof of the strength of Christie’s, we have it,’ said a delighted Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti, who pointed out that when sales in Geneva, London and Paris are added, the total for the week will be pushing the $1 billion mark.

‘The strength was in the collections,’ commented Sara Friedlander, Head of the Post-War and Contemporary Art department at Christie's in New York. ‘Eighty-five per cent of the works in the sale were fresh to market, or had been off the market for 20-plus years.’

‘The sold percentage numbers we have seen tonight are the best I can remember in this category,’ said Christie's Global President Jussi Pylkkanen, who admitted to feeling ‘exhausted’ after presiding over an auction which witnessed high demand for works of the very highest calibre. 

In total, the 20th Century Week  sales of Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art came to a combined $842,535,375 (£652,219,944 / €761,484,047). This total eclipses the week’s pre-sale estimate of $670 million, and represents a $220 million increase over Christie’s November 2016 New York series. The week achieved the highest total for an Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale  at Christie’s since May 2010, and the strongest sell-through rates for a Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale  in a decade.

With over 800 individual works sold across the week, Christie’s achieved consistently strong results across price levels, from $500 works on paper and ceramics to $50 million masterpieces.  At its high-value Evening Sales, the overwhelming majority of works offered sold within or above estimate, underscoring the firm’s commitment to delivering superior results for both individual sellers and estate collections.