Peter Doig leads the 20th Century: London to Paris series

Peter Doig’s Boiler House makes top price; world records are set for Marina Abramović, Daniel Richter, Steven Shearer and Markus Lüpertz; 20th Century: London to Paris tops £90 million

On 22 October Christie’s launched 20th Century: London to Paris, a dynamic, cross-channel conversation between two culturally vibrant cities. 

The series of four sales, which showcased the very best in Modern, Post-War and Contemporary art and Design, realised a combined total of £90,279,883/ $118,447,206/ €99,849,551.

The series opened with a dedicated single-owner sale of monumental sculpture, Le jardin secret de Paul Haim, which achieved £18,616,071/ €20,589,375, selling 100 per cent by lot and 100 per cent by value. Joan Miró’s La Caresse d'un oiseau  produced the highest price of the sale at €4,700,000 (including buyer’s premium).

Live-streamed simultaneously from Christie’s in Paris and in London, Paris Avant-garde achieved £17,122,061/ €18,937,000 and the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale totalled £49,220,500/ €54,437,873. The evening drew to a close with the Thinking Italian Art and Design Evening Sale, which realised £5,321,250/ €5,885,303.

Auctioneers Cécile Verdier in Paris and Jussi Pylkkänen in London took bids from clients in the saleroom (in line with regional government guidance), through phone banks and via Christie’s LIVE online bidding channel. Thinking Italian was conducted by Arlene Blankers. 

Over 190,000 people tuned into the live-streamed event through Christie’s website and social media channels, including YouTube, Facebook and WeChat.  

Peter Doig (b. 1959), Boiler House, 1993. Oil on canvas. 78¾ x 108¼ in (200 x 275 cm). Sold for £13,895,500 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London. Artwork © Peter Doig, DACS 2020
Peter Doig (b. 1959), Boiler House, 1993. Oil on canvas. 78¾ x 108¼ in (200 x 275 cm). Sold for £13,895,500 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London. Artwork: © Peter Doig, DACS 2020

The top lot of the night was Peter Doig’s Boiler House, which sold for £13,895,500 (including buyer’s premium). Painted in 1993, and included in Doig’s 2008 retrospective at Tate Britain, it depicts an isolated building in a forest. 

It is one of nine large-scale canvases inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in northeastern France, a utopian housing project that had opened in 1961 in Briey-en-Fôret, then been abandoned. Rendered in fluid trails of impasto, with a stark anthropomorphic charge, Boiler House  serves as a poignant meditation on memory, decay and displacement.

Pierre Soulages (b. 1919), Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 9 juillet 1961, 1961. Oil on canvas. 162 x 130  cm. Sold for €5,392,500 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in Paris. Artwork © Pierre Soulages, DACS 2020
Pierre Soulages (b. 1919), Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 9 juillet 1961, 1961. Oil on canvas. 162 x 130 cm. Sold for €5,392,500 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in Paris. Artwork: © Pierre Soulages, DACS 2020

The top price in Paris was achieved by Pierre Soulages’s Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 9 juillet 1961, a masterpiece from a key period in the artist’s career. The work, which had not been seen in public since it was exhibited in late 1961 at the Kootz Gallery in New York, sold for €5,392,500. 

‘It’s a thrilling rediscovery,’ said Paul Nyzam, head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s in Paris. ‘It is everything a collector would want to find in a Pierre Soulages.’

Selling above its high estimate of €1,500,000, 31.07.68  by Zao Wou-Ki fetched €2,060,000. Executed shortly before his wife’s death, the canvas features long, dynamic brushstrokes that twist and turn and darken, reflecting the painter’s emotional torment at the end of the 1960s. 

Other impressive results included Robert Delaunay’s Portugaise au potiron, which sold to an online bidder for €1,340,000 — more than double the low estimate. Egon Schiele’s Liegendes Mädchen mit roter Bluse  nearly doubled the high estimate when it sold for €644,000, while Opalka 1965 /1-8, Detail 5286842 – 5302004  by Roman Opalka realised £560,000 — more than double its low estimate.

David Hockney (b. 1937), Portrait of Sir David Webster, 1971. Acrylic on canvas. 60⅛ x 72⅝ in (152.8 x 184.5 cm). Sold for £12,865,000 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London. Artwork © David Hockney 
David Hockney (b. 1937), Portrait of Sir David Webster, 1971. Acrylic on canvas. 60⅛ x 72⅝ in (152.8 x 184.5 cm). Sold for £12,865,000 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London. Artwork: © David Hockney 

In London, the Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale sold 92 per cent by lot and 98 per cent by value. In addition to the work by Doig, other notable results included David Hockney’s Portrait of Sir David Webster (1971), which was offered for sale by the Royal Opera House in London.

Inspired by Hockney’s love of opera, the portrait of the former General Administrator of the Royal Opera House not only exemplifies the artist’s flair for human observation, but also his expert handling of light and colour, from the rich greens in the sitter’s suit to the brilliant pink of the tulips. 

It sold for £12,865,000, with proceeds to contribute towards vital funding for the world-renowned venue.

A new record was set for Daniel Richter, whose monumental Tarifa (2001) soared past the high estimate before finally fetching £1,162,500. Included in the Whitechapel Gallery’s acclaimed 2020 exhibition Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium, it is based on a photograph from an article published in 2000, depicting African migrants stranded in a small boat en route to the Spanish resort of Tarifa. 

Also selling above estimate was Fidelity  by American artist Titus Kaphar, which realised £250,000. Executed in 2010, the work reimagines Thomas Gainsborough’s painting of the landowner Colonel John Bullock in full frock-coated regalia, leaning on a neoclassical urn with his faithful dog by his side. 

Marina Abramović (b. 1946), The Life, 2018-2019. Sold for £287,500 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London. © Marina Abramović. Courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives DACS 2020
Marina Abramović (b. 1946), The Life, 2018-2019. Sold for £287,500 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London. © Marina Abramović. Courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives /DACS 2020

The Kaphar was followed by Marina Abramović’s The Life (2018-19), the first Mixed Reality work to be offered at auction. The groundbreaking artwork, which premiered at London’s Serpentine Galleries in February 2019, offers participants an intimate digital encounter with Abramović via a wearable spatial computing device. 

It was acquired by the Faurschou Foundation, an art institution headquartered in Copenhagen with permanent exhibition spaces in Beijing and New York, for £287,500 — a new world record for the artist at auction. 

New world auction records were also set for Markus Lüpertz’s Arrangement für eine Mütze I- dithyrambisch (Arrangement for a Cap I- dithyrambic), which achieved £300,000; and for Steven Shearer’s Brother (2005), which sold for £125,000.

There were other impressive results. Georg Baselitz’s Weiblicher Akt - liegend (Female Nude - Lying) soared above the high estimate before realising £1,762,500, while Oh to be a Serpent that I might love you longer (1962) by Scottish painter Alan Davie sparked competitive bidding before selling for £150,000 — more than double the high estimate. 

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994), Mappa (Map), 1984. Embroidery. 44⅛ x 69¼ in (112 x 176 cm). Sold for £1,702,500 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London. Artwork © Alighiero Boetti, DACS 2020
Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994), Mappa (Map), 1984. Embroidery. 44⅛ x 69¼ in (112 x 176 cm). Sold for £1,702,500 on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London. Artwork: © Alighiero Boetti, DACS 2020

After a swift change of auctioneers, the Thinking Italian Art and Design Evening Sale started off strongly, with a flurry of bids for Alighiero Boetti’s 1967 Celant, an early attempt to immortalise the then 27-year-old Italian curator, writer and art historian Germano Celant. It sold for £450,000 — nine times the high estimate. 

There was also plenty of interest in Boetti’s hand-embroidered tapestry from 1984, which produced the top price of the sale at £1,702,500. Part of the artist’s celebrated Mappe (Maps) series, it depicts Earth’s landmasses fragmented into various countries set adrift in an ocean of sumptuous Tyrian purple.

Other notable performers included Linea m 6,98 (Line m 6,98) by Piero Manzoni, which fetched £206,250; Mario Schifano’s Cementoferro 6 (Concrete iron 6), which sold for £187,500; and Un po' lavorato (circa 1959) by Mimmo Rotella, which nearly doubled the low estimate at £137,500.

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large chandelier by Gio Ponti cruised past the high estimate of £40,000 before selling for £106,250, while a pair of rare table sculptures also by the designer achieved £60,000. Riccardo Dalisi’s ‘Pasternacchio’ chair from 1979 sold for £21,250, setting a new world record for the artist at auction. 

There will be day sales in both cities on 23 October.