Top collections drive 20th and 21st Century series to $922,194,466

Collections from S.I. Newhouse, Gerald Fineberg and Paul G. Allen, among others, powered Christie’s marquee week to new heights

On 11 May, Christie’s 20th and 21st Century sales in New York commenced with the third chapter of Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection. The collection of the late Condé Nast chairman achieved a total of $177,792,000, and the following 20th Century Evening Sale totalled $328,779,600. 

‘Having sold eight of the top ten collections to ever come to market, including those of Paul G. Allen and Si Newhouse, we at Christie's are proud to be the house of great collections,’ said Alex Rotter, Chairman of the 20th and 21st Century sale. 

The 21st Century Evening Sale followed on 15 May. The auction totalled $98,802,500 and saw the week’s top lot, Jean Michel Basquiat’s El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile). The evening highlighted the strength of female artists in the market, with more than 50 per cent of the lots by women artists, including seminal works by Simone Leigh, Cecily Brown and Yayoi Kusama.   

Spanning a century of artistic creation, Part I of Gerald Fineberg’s extraordinary collection was auctioned off on 17 May, achieving $153,053,300. Comprising modern, post-war and contemporary masterpieces, the sale set five artist records. Part II continued on 18 May, earning $44,113,470 and bringing the total for the collection to $197,166,770. 

Thursday’s sale brought the total for Christie’s 20th and 21st Century marquee week to $922,194,466. The four evening sales welcomed more than 4.6 million views across Christie’s global platforms, and attracted bidders from more than 19 countries, in addition to those bidding in the room. 34 world auction records were set, among them 15 for female artists such as Agnes Pelton, Alma Thomas and Diane Arbus.

Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection

During his lifetime, Newhouse was an avid collector whose taste was informed by his role as the long-time chairman of Condé Nast. His selection of masterworks was on full display 11 May. The sale’s latest chapter at Christie’s cemented Newhouse’s collection as the sixth highest grossing of all time, totalling $177,792,000. Auctioneer Adrien Meyer led the white glove sale, which achieved 105.6 per cent hammer against the low estimate.

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Self-Portrait, 1969. Oil on canvas. 14 x 12 in (35.6 x 30.5 cm). Sold for $34,622,500 in Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection on 11 May 2023 at Christies in New York

The top lot of the sale was Francis Bacon’s Self Portrait, which realised $34,622,500. The work portrays the artist at the height of his powers in 1969, and its dynamic brushwork and striking pose is highly characteristic of this period of Bacon’s style. 

In Newhouse’s home, the work was displayed together with Bacon’s Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing, sold in the first edition of Newhouse’s collection at Christie’s in 2018. The two paintings are iconic images from Bacon’s oeuvre.

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Orestes, 1947. Oil, enamel and paper collage on paper mounted on board. 24⅛ x 36⅛ in (61.3 x 91.8 cm). Sold for $30,885,000 in Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection on 11 May 2023 at Christies in New York

Willem de Kooning’s Orestes realised $30,885,000. The rare early painting from 1947 signifies the pivotal moment in the artist’s career when he relinquished figuration and gave himself over to abstraction entirely.

Another standout was Pablo Picasso’s L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller), which sold for $24,560,000. From 1937, it is one of seven striking portraits that the artist painted of the photojournalist and model Lee Miller — whom Condé Nast famously put on the cover of Vogue in 1927.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller), 1937. Oil and Ripolin on canvas. 28 ⅞ x 23 ½ in (72.7 x 59.8 cm). Sold for $24,560,000 in Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection on 11 May 2023 at Christies in New York

20th Century Evening Sale 

After a short break, the second auction of 11 May began, led by auctioneers Jussi Pylkkänen and Tash Perrin. The 20th Century Evening Sale featured masterpieces by Picasso and O’Keeffe, as well as rare works by Henri Rousseau and Agnes Pelton that achieved artist records. Totalling $328,779,600, the sale sold 81.5 per cent by lot and 108.6 per cent hammer against the low estimate.

Henri 'Le Douanier' Rousseau (1844-1910), Les Flamants, 1910. Oil on canvas. 44 ⅞ x 63 ¼ in (113.8 x 162 cm). Sold for $43,535,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 11 May 2023 at Christie's in New York

‘We knew that the Rousseau was going to excite people,’ said Vanessa Fusco, Co-Head of the 20th Century Evening Sale. ‘It’s a painting that we’ve been talking about for many weeks, and we’re so happy to conclude this story with a world record price that is ten times the previous record at auction.’

Henri Rousseau’s Les Flamants shattered the artist’s previous auction record, realising the highest price of the sale at $43,535,000 after nearly eight minutes of bidding. This rare jungle painting by Rousseau epitomises the wonder of his self-taught practice. His work is considered a precursor to the avant-garde, but his collage-like approach, utilising journals, novels, postcards and ephemera, makes his imagined scenes entirely unique.

Pablo Picasso, Nature morte à la fenêtre, 1932. Oil on canvas. 51 x 63 ⅞ in (129.7 x 162.3 cm). Sold for $41,810,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 11 May 2023 at Christie's in New York

Picasso’s Nature Morte à la Fenêtre followed at $41,810,000. This portrait of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter is amongst the artist’s most celebrated works, and one of the first canvases he made in a notable series devoted to her. 

The Picassos sold in the Collection of S.I. Newhouse and the 20th Century Evening Sale are among an outstanding selection of works by the Spanish master offered in this spring’s 20th and 21st sales, as the art world marks the 50th anniversary of his death

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), Burning Gas Station, 1966-1969. Oil on canvas. 20 ⅛ x 39 in (51.1 x 99.1 cm). Sold for $22,260,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 11 May 2023 at Christie's in New York

The iconic painting by Ed Ruscha, Burning Gas Station, painted from 1966-1969, sold for $22,260,000. Belonging to a series of five Standard Stations that the artist painted in the 1960s, it had not been publicly exhibited since 1976. It was part of the Alan and Dorothy Press Collection, which also included Henri Matisse’s Jeune fille accoudéethat sold for $1,623,000 and Ken Price's M. Green, which sold for $554,400, breaking the artist's previous record of $509,000. The Press Collection reached a grand total of $51.6 million, across the evening and day sales. 

The evening also included seven additional works from the collection of Paul G. Allen, which surpassed $1 billion in a single evening as part of Christie’s 20th and 21st Century series last November. 

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Iris VI commanded the highest price at $21,110,000, while her White Calico Rose realised $13,060,000. Three works by David Hockney also fetched high prices: The Gate brought in $14,670,000, Early Blossom, Woldgate saw $19,385,000 and Felled Trees achieved $10,760,000. 

In total, this sold-out edition of the Paul G. Allen collection brought in $88,856,000.

Agnes Pelton (1881-1961), The Fountains, 1926. Oil on canvas. 36⅛ x 32 in (91.8 x 81.3 cm). Sold for $3,438,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 11 May 2023 at Christie's in New York

The sale also saw an artist record set by Agnes Pelton’s The Fountains, which turned heads when it realised $3,438,000. This early abstract work from 1926 was the German painter’s artistic breakthrough, embodying the mode of painting she is best known for. Though overlooked in its time, The Fountains is the most significant work of Pelton’s ever to come to auction. 

21st Century Evening Sale 

On 15 May, the 21st Century Evening Sale achieved a total of $98,802,500, selling 96 per cent by lot and 123 per cent hammer against the low estimate. With auctioneer Georgina Hilton at the rostrum, the sale was led by the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cecily Brown and Yayoi Kusama. Nine artists set records and more than 50 per cent of the lots were by women artists.  

‘We’re pleased to offer more than 50 per cent works by female artists for the first time with nine artists records, five of whom were women’, said Isabella Lauria, Head of 21st Century Evening Sales.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile), 1983. Acrylic and oilstick on canvas mounted on wooden supports, in three parts. 68 x 141 in (172.7 x 358 cm). Sold for $67,110,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 15 May 2023 at Christie’s in New York

The leading lot, not only of this sale but of the 20th and 21st Century marquee week, was Basquiat’s El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile). One of the most important paintings of his career, this ground-breaking work is one of three large-scale canvases he made in 1983. Combining ancient and modern symbols, it is Basquiat’s quintessential history painting.   

The monumental painting has been featured in major retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1992 and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2006. Fetching $67,110,000, it achieved the highest price of the night following five minutes of competitive bidding. 

The sale opened with Ice Queen by the Brooklyn-based painter Robin F. Williams. Showing a nude woman posing on her back, her mouth curled in an unsettling grin, the painting upends the historical tradition of the female nude as a passive subject of the male gaze. Here, both artist and subject take charge. The painting, which achieved $428,400 — an artist record — set the tone for the rest of the auction: the evening repeatedly demonstrated the market’s enthusiasm for contemporary women artists.

Cecily Brown (b. 1969), Untitled (The Beautiful and Damned), 2013. Oil on linen. 109 x 171 in (276.9 x 434.3 cm). Sold for $6,705,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 15 May 2023 at Christie’s in New York

The second highest price of the sale was brought in by Brown’s Untitled (The Beautiful and Damned) at $6,705,000. Brown’s current survey exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, affirms her status as one of the most important artists working today. This immersive, mural-like painting, which depicts a flurry of moving, life-size figures, is a study of her masterful brushwork and sumptuous use of colour.  

The third highest price was achieved by Kusama’s Pumpkin, which garnered $4,890,000. Kusama has also received a surge of international attention this year, having worked with a major fashion house in what has been called the biggest fashion collaboration of the year. Pumpkin was painted at a pivotal time for the artist in 1993, when she was chosen as the first single artist to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale. The centrepiece of her exhibit was a large yellow pumpkin installed in one of her signature mirrored Infinity Rooms, and the pumpkin remains one of her most well-known motifs.  

Simone Leigh (b. 1967), Stick, 2019. Bronze. 85 x 63 x 63 in (215.9 x 160 x 160 cm). Sold for $2,712,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 15 May 2023 at Christie’s in New York

Women artists and artists of colour were highlighted throughout the evening, including Simone Leigh. Her monumental sculpture Stick set a new world record price at the time of sale, fetching $2,712,000. The first Black woman to be awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, Leigh has changed the face of contemporary sculpture and is currently the focus of a museum survey exhibition at ICA Boston.  

Stick is one of her most important works: executed in an edition of just three plus one artist’s proof, another example was shown at the 2019 Whitney Biennale and is now a promised gift to the museum’s permanent collection.

In addition to showcasing established artists who are at the forefront of the art world’s stage, the evening introduced emerging talents. It marked the first time that Danielle McKinney and Rebecca Ackroyd’s works have been sold at auction, and they were received enthusiastically, setting new artist records as they realised $201,600 and $56,700, respectively. 

The sale also welcomed new artist records for Diane ArbusVojtěch Kovařík, El AnatsuiPeter Saul and one for a single work by William Eggleston.

The Collection of Gerald Fineberg: Part I 

A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection kicked off with Part I on 17 May, which sold 91 per cent by lot and 77 per cent hammer against the low estimate. Led by auctioneers Jussi Pylkkänen and Adrien Meyer, the evening sale reached $153,053,300 and set five artist records. 

‘Jerry was a passionate collector with incredible taste. He didn’t buy what everyone else was buying, and tonight the market showed up for works that no one was buying when he was,’ said Sara Friedlander, Deputy Chairman.  

Christopher Wool (b. 1955), Untitled, 1993. Enamel and graphite on aluminum. 78 x 60 in (198 x 152.4 cm). Sold for $10,070,000 in A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection Part I on 17 May 2023 at Christie's in New York

The top lot of the sale was Christopher Wool’s 1993 painting Untitled, which was acquired for $10,070,000. Featuring Wool’s signature stencilled letters and gritty graphic style, the painting is reflective of the punk and New Wave scenes of the 1990s.

Gerhard Richter’s Badende garnered the second-highest price of the evening at $9,610,000. The 1967 work, part of his ground-breaking series of figurative photo-paintings, established Richter as a preeminent artistic voice of his time. 

Barkley Hendricks (1945-2017), Stanley, 1971. Oil on canvas. 72 x 49⅝ in (182.8 x 127 cm). Sold for $6,100,000 in A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection Part I on 17 May 2023 at Christie's in New York

Two seminal works by artists of colour set records: Alma Thomas’s A Fantastic Sunset and Barkley Hendricks’s Stanley

A Fantastic Sunset broke its previous record of $2,655,000, achieving $3,922,000. The 1970 painting was completed just two years before Thomas’s solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the first by an African American female artist. 

Stanley, a portrait of the artist Stanley Whitney, smashed Hendricks’s previous auction record of $4 million, achieving $6,100,000 after a six-minute bidding war. The painting is an early example of Hendricks’s unique style, in which he drew from influences as varied as the Old Masters and street photography. By placing people of colour at the centre of his work, Hendricks challenged the status quo and brought previously underrepresented subjects into the artistic canon. 

Alma Thomas (1891-1978), A Fantastic Sunset, 1970. 48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm). Sold for $3,922,000 in A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection Part I on 17 May 2023 at Christie's in New York

Additional artist records were set by Jo Baer’s Untitled, which achieved $327,600; Alina Szapocznikow’s Portret Wielokrotny (Dwukrotny), which sold for $907,200; and Ulysses by Milton Resnick, which garnered $252,000 against a low estimate of $100,000.

The sale of the Gerald Fineberg collection continued on 18 May with Part II. Earning $44,113,470, the auction sold 97 per cent by lot and 100 per cent hammer against the low estimate. 

The top lot of the day was Ed Ruscha’s The Future, which more than doubled its low estimate of $800,000 at $1,865,000. Other standouts were Grace Hartigan’s On Orchard Street, selling for more than ten times the low estimate and earning $1,197,000, and Summer Blossom by Lynne Drexler, which achieved $1,381,000 against a low estimate of $150,000.

Artist records were also set for Melvin EdwardsTokujin Yoshioka, Pat Passlof, Joseph Glasco, William T. Williams, Marcia Marcus, Ryuji Tanaka and Willie Cole.

20th and 21st Century Day Sales 

Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale took place Friday 12 May, totalling $80,464,790. It sold 90 per cent by lot and achieved 114 per cent hammer against the low estimate. In addition, the sale saw six artists achieve auction records, and two more set records in their medium.

The top lot was Jackson Pollock’s Number 28, 1949, offered as part of the Collection of Ann and Gordon Getty, which sold for $6,705,000 — the second highest price ever seen in a day sale. Helen Frankenthaler’s Genuine Blue fetched $3,317,000 as part of the Collection of Nicole Emmerich Teweles, which realised $9,994,930 in total.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Number 28, 1949, 1949. Enamel on canvas mounted on Masonite. 12⅞ x 13 in (32.5 x 33 cm). Sold for $6,705,000 in Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale on 12 May 2023 at Christie’s in New York

Jenna Gribbon’s Set List Focus achieved an artist record. With 14 active bidders, the painting sold for $403,200 — more than 10 times its low estimate. Artist records were also set for Maysha Mohamedi, Jesse Mockrin, Shona McAndrew, Alvin Armstrong and Santiago Calatrava. Hilary Pecis and Piero Dorazio set records for their mediums, while David Hockney’s Caribbean Tea Time achieved a record for the edition at $378,000. 

The Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale was followed by two Impressionist and Modern Art sales on 13 May. Overall, the two sales achieved $39,189,106, selling 84 per cent by lot, with 94 per cent against the overall low estimate. The morning’s Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper Sale brought a total of $10,684,100, selling 84 per cent by lot and hammering 94 per cent against its low estimate. It was led by the sale of Claude Monet’s La Tamise, a pastel work which surpassed its high estimate to sell for $2,954,000, while a Van Gogh drawing and Picasso’s Tête d’homme au chapeau from the Orange Blossom Collection both sold for $529,200.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Le peintre et son modèle, 1963. Oil on canvas. 28¾ x 39⅜ in (71 x 100 cm). Sold for $3,317,000 in Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale on 13 May 2023 at Christie’s in New York

The Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale saw the highest price of the day with Pablo Picasso’s Le peintre et son modèle fetching $3,317,000 as part of the Collection of Ann and Gordon Getty. It helped bring the sale to a grand total of $28,505,006, selling 84 per cent by lot and hammering 84 per cent against its low estimate. Another work from Picasso, Buste de jeune fille (Paloma), realised $1,925,500, while Marc Chagall’s Autour du coq rouge sold for $1,865,500. 

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