Signac’s vision of Saint-Tropez and Basquiat’s Picasso portrait lead 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale

Other highlights of the £63,824,100 / $81,184,255 / €74,099,780 sale include Cecily Brown’s monumental Kiss Me Stupid, plus artist records for emerging talents including Diane Dal-Pra, Sahara Longe and Victor Man

Collectors from around the world convened in London today for Christie’s 20th/21st Century Evening Sale. Sixty-one lots sold in two hours, achieving a total of £63,824,100.

Registered bidders from 39 countries, with an average of three competing for each lot, helped to achieve a strong sell-through rate of 92 per cent by lot and 91 per cent by value — testament to the depth of bidding throughout the sale, driven by appealing estimates and an appetite for works not previously seen at auction.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Calanque des Canoubiers (Pointe de Bamer), Saint-Tropez, 1896. Oil on canvas. 25¾ x 32 in (65.3 x 81.3 cm). Sold for £8,015,000 on 28 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

The top lot was Paul Signac’s Pointillist Calanque des Canoubiers (Pointe de Bamer), Saint-Tropez. Created in 1896, the work captures the artist’s love affair with the French coastline in luminescent brushstrokes. ‘Happiness — that is what I have just discovered,’ he wrote to his mother when he first visited Saint-Tropez.

Christie’s Global President and auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen fielded competitive phone bidding which saw the work sell for £8,015,000, a fitting sequel to the record-breaking $39 million sale of Signac’s Concarneau, calme du matin (Opus no. 219, larghetto), from the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen at Christie’s in November last year.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Untitled (Pablo Picasso), 1984. Acrylic and oilstick on metal. 35⅝ x 35⅝ in (90.5 x 90.5 cm). Sold for £6,462,500 on 28 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

Following Signac’s price was that achieved by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s portrait Untitled (Pablo Picasso), a tribute from one titan of 20th-century painting to another that underlined the artistic connections made across the 20th/21st century auction format. Painted on a sheet of metal, it was created in 1984 as the young artist grappled with his own rapid rise to international stardom.

This was the first time the work had been seen in public since it hung in the critically acclaimed show Basquiat: Boom for Real  at London’s Barbican gallery in 2017-18. After nearly seven minutes of intense bidding, it achieved £6,462,500 to a round of applause.

This price reflects Basquiat’s buoyant market; his works El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile)  and Black  led both the New York and Hong Kong evening sales last month.

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Lucian Freud (1922-2011), A Man (Self-portrait), 1944. Ink and coloured pencil on paper. 8½ x 5¾ in (21.5 x 14.6 cm). Sold for £1,734,000 on 28 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

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Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Autoportrait, vers sa vingt-et-unième année, circa 1855. Pencil on paper. 5½ x 4¼ in (14.1 x 10.8 cm). Sold for £554,400 on 28 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

The celebration of portraiture — reflecting the recent reopening of London’s National Portrait Gallery and Christie’s current private selling exhibition, Selfhood — was further highlighted by two bold self-portraits by artists who were asserting themselves at the start of their careers.

The first was Lucian Freud’s fresh-to-auction A Man (Self-portrait), from 1944, when the artist was in his 22nd year. Drawn with confident, powerful lines, it realised £1,734,000. The second was Edgar Degas’s exquisite drawing created around 1855, when he was the same age. Autoportrait, vers sa vingt-et-unième année, achieved £554,400.

With all eyes on Picasso this year, as more than 50 shows around the world mark five decades since the Spaniard’s death, his painting Tête de femme — created in 1921 in the midst of his Neoclassical period — realised £1,250,000. The work was consigned from the family of the legendary art dealer Heinz Berggruen.

The evening sale saw similar spirited bidding for other works with formidable provenance, underscoring Christie’s position as the global destination for important private collections. Eight of the top 10 most valuable collections in history have been sold at Christie’s, and three of those were offered in 2022.

Nine lots from the Gerald Fineberg Collection brought in a combined £6,549,800. Among them were Kazuo Shiraga’s Choryo (Jumping Dragon) from 1994, and Cy Twombly’s 1956 work Untitled, which both made £1,492,000, and Josef Albers’s Study for Homage to the Square (1972), which sold for £869,400. This brings the running total for the Fineberg Collection, offered across New York, Hong Kong and London sales, to £170,418,132.

More works from the Fineberg Collection will be offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale on 29 June.

Cecily Brown (b. 1969), Kiss Me Stupid, 1999. Oil on linen. 60 x 75 in (152.4 x 190.5 cm). Sold for £3,549,000 on 28 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

Of the 28 living artists represented in the sale, 10 were women. Cecily Brown’s 1999 work Kiss Me Stupid  fetched £3,549,000, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity-Nets (OOAXT)  realised £1,734,000, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Diplomacy I (2009) made £1,371,000 — just shy of the artist’s auction record of $1.9 million for Diplomacy III  at Christie’s in New York in May 2021.

Diane Dal-Pra (b. 1991), It Belongs to You, 2020. Oil on linen. 57½ x 44⅞ in (146 x 114 cm). Sold for £113,400 on 28 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

History was made for a group of new names and a younger generation of figurative painters who opened the auction. Lot one, It Belongs to You (2020), marked the evening sale debut of the young French artist Diane Dal-Pra. Despite the fact that she only held her first solo show in 2020, her fantastical painting of a dreamlike maternal embrace sold for £113,400 — more than tripling its low estimate and setting a new auction record for the artist.

Victor Man (b. 1974), Weltinnenraum (World Within), 2017. Oil on canvas. 51⅜ x 39⅜ in (130.5 x 100.1 cm). Sold for £1,734,000 on 28 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

This was followed by two self-portraits, by Sahara Longe and Louis Fratino, which made £113,400 and £201,600 respectively — both against low estimates of £40,000. It was also Longe’s auction debut, establishing a strong benchmark for the artist.

Lot four, Victor Man’s 2017 portrait of his wife, Weltinnenraum (World Within), smashed the artist’s previous record of £214,200, set at Christie’s in March 2022 by D with Raven. A rare large-scale work, the painting realised £1,734,000 — more than 17 times its low estimate.

Chase Hall (b. 1993), Earl Hooker Blues in D Natural, 2020. Acrylic and coffee on cotton canvas. 48 x 48 in (121.9 x 121.9 cm). Sold for £75,600 on 28 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

Auction records were also set for two other emerging artists: Chase Hall, whose portrait Earl Hooker Blues in D Natural  made £75,600; and the Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, whose photographic work Magnetism (Triptych)  achieved £189,000.

The London season continued with works offered across the 29 June Post-War and Contemporary Art and 30 June Impressionist and Modern Art and Works on Paper day sales. The first was jointly led by Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin (1993) and Ben Sledsens’s 2016 narrative painting Throwing Dice — both sold for £504,000 — with the latter achieving more than eight times its low estimate and a world auction record for the artist. Strong prices were also realised for Caroline Walker (Oasis, £239,400), Salman Toor (Takeout, £352,800) and Jenna Gribbon’s Limpid pools like me, which achieved £239,400, contributing to a sale total of £12,665,520 / $15,971,221 / €14,641,341.

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The Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale achieved £9,202,662 / $11,595,354 / €10,665,885, with Marc Chagall’s rare proof set of 42 lithographs from the Daphnis et Chloé  suite — arguably the artist’s finest print series — leading the sale at £819,000. Continuing the season’s focus on portraiture, strong prices were achieved for Edgar Degas’s Femme nue s’essuyant (£327,600), alongside works by Rodin, Mondrian and Alexej von Jawlensky.

The season concludes with First Open: Post-War and Contemporary Art Online, which remains open for bidding until 5 July.

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