20th Century Week total surpasses $387 million, driven by new global auction format

Three-day October season of Impressionist, Modern and Post-War and Contemporary art sales achieves $387,242,500, with more than 280,000 people live-streaming the Evening Sale

Christie’s October 20th Century Season — an innovative addition to the global sales calendar this year — launched with the 20th Century Evening Sale, live-streamed from Rockefeller Center in New York. It realised $340,851,500 / £262,597,458 / €288,594,606 (including buyer’s premium), selling 96 per cent by value and 84 per cent by lot. Day sales of Post-War and Contemporary art and Impressionist and Modern art followed on 7 and 8 October, achieving $36,484,250 / £28,304,306 / €31,021,519 and $9,694,125 / £7,503,193 / €8,223,499 respectively (including buyer’s premium). 

Demonstrating continued demand for both masterpiece and core-level works of art, some 280,000 people tuned into the highly anticipated Evening Sale through Christie’s website and social media channels, including YouTube, Facebook and WeChat. The sale also registered bidders from across the world via Christie’s LIVE online bidding platform, with a broadening demographic of bidders under the age of 40. 

It was an auction like nothing before, enhanced by a pre-show conversation on Christie’s.com between Christie’s Chairman Marc Porter, art advisor Jeffrey Deitch and Melanie Gerlis of the Financial Times, followed with live commentary by Deputy Chairmen Bonnie Brennan and Richard Lloyd throughout. 

The sale of 59 works of exceptional quality, rarity and provenance, spanning the 20th and 21st centuries, also offered collectors a singular opportunity well ahead of the traditional autumn sale calendar.

‘Innovating and breaking with tradition is our new normal,’ said Alex Rotter, Chairman of 20th and 21st Century Art. ‘In this changing world, we needed to brainstorm a sale concept that offers another way of experiencing an auction. It is with great pleasure that I can say that we had a very successful sale in a time that is not usual for us.’

Head of Evening Sale, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Ana-Maria Celis added: ‘We saw bidding from Asia, London and from New York. We built this sale in a short period of time — essentially in August. In this very moment and in this year, the timing clearly resonated with people worldwide. To see extraordinary results in the masterpiece category was fantastic, most notably the Cy Twombly Untitled [Bolsena], our cover lot and a much-loved painting here at Christie’s.’

Cy Twombly (1928-2011), Untitled [Bolsena], 1969. Oil-based house paint, wax crayon, graphite and felt-tip pen on canvas. 78½ x 94½ in (199.4 x 240 cm). Sold for $38,685,000 on 6 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork: © Cy Twombly Foundation

The top lot of the Evening sale, Cy Twombly’s Untitled [Bolsena] (1969), is one of a series of 14 paintings — known today as the ‘Bolsena’ series — inspired by the Apollo 11 space mission. A rare example of Twombly responding to contemporary events, the monumental canvas features cool overlays of white paint interspersed with scorched black lines that evoke the upward thrust of the rocket’s journey as it arches its way into the unknown. 

The work was formerly part of the Saatchi Collection, and has been prominently exhibited throughout its lifetime. The 20th Century Evening Sale marked the first time that it had appeared at auction, selling for $38,685,000. 

Works by Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso achieved the second- and third-highest prices of the night for paintings.

Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Untitled, 1967. Oil on canvas. 68 x 60¼ in (172.7 x 153 cm). Sold for $31,275,000 on 6 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork: © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London

One of the most dramatic paintings from the latter part of the artist’s career, Rothko’s Untitled (1967) realised $31,275,000. With its duelling forces of rich, vibrant colour surrounding an ominous void, the artist’s complex masterwork is one of only four completed after finishing his suite of meditative canvases for the Rothko Chapel in 1967, and before the ‘Black on Gray’ series that was to comprise the final works of his life.

Picasso’s Femme dans un fauteuil (1941), depicting his then-muse and lover Dora Maar, sold for $29,557,500. The wartime painting was one of seven Picasso works offered in the sale.

The sale also saw a new world auction record for a watercolour by Paul Cézanne. Offered from the collection of Edsel & Eleanor Ford House — in which it has resided for more than 80 years — Nature morte avec pot au lait, melon et sucrier realised $28,650,000.

Painted between 1900 and the artist’s death six years later, the still life belongs to a group of watercolours that represent the culmination of his lifelong study of painting.

Other notable results included Willem de Kooning’s Woman (Green), a powerful work from the artist’s important 1950s ‘Woman’ series, which sold for $23,260,000; and Emil Nolde’s Herbstmeer XVI  from 1911, which realised $7,344,500, setting a new world record for the artist at auction.

‘With its rich palette and intense energy, Herbstmeer XVI  is one of the greatest works of its kind to come to market,’ said Senior Specialist Jessica Fertig.

Later in the night, Tamara de Lempicka’s Les Deux Amies from 1930 achieved $9,405,500, well over its $6 million low estimate; while Vase d’anémones by Pierre-Auguste Renoir sold for $2,790,000 — more than triple the low estimate. 

A male Tyrannosaurs rex. From the Hell Creek Formation. Late Cretaceous (circa 67 million years ago). Approx. 190 bones surviving and mounted on custom frame with additional cast elements. A separate display for the original skull and teeth. Size: 37 x 13 x 6 ft (1128 x 396 x 183 cm). Sold for $31,847,500 in the 20th Century Evening Sale on 6 October at Christie’s in New York

In a Christie’s first, STAN, one of the most complete T-rexes  ever found, closed the blockbuster Evening Sale. Described by James Hyslop, Head of Christie’s Science & Natural History department, as ‘one of the best specimens ever discovered’, the impressive fossil skeleton smashed the previous world auction record to realise $31,847,500 — more than five times its low estimate.

Established names as well as new talent saw exceptional results in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale on 7 October, led by Matthew Wong’s Shangri-La. The monumental 2017 canvas soared above its $500,000 low estimate to achieve $4,470,000, as bidders from around the globe battled for the landscape from Wong’s tragically short career. The price set a new auction record for the artist. 

The sale also saw strong results for Ruth Asawa’s lyrical wire sculpture from the early 1960s Untitled (S.753, Hanging Ten Interlocking Double Trumpets), which doubled its low estimate to realise $1,050,000, and Takashi Murakami’s 2008 sculpture Oval Buddha Silver, selling for $1,830,000. A dazzling fusion of Japanese Buddhist aesthetics, manga  and Western Pop culture forged in sterling silver, another example from the same edition was displayed at the Palace of Versailles in 2010. 

Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), Untitled (S.753, Hanging Ten Interlocking Double Trumpets), circa early-1960s. Brass and copper wire. 23 x 24 x 14½ in (58.4 x 61 x 36.8 cm). Sold for $1,050,000 on 7 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork: © The Estate of Ruth Asawa / DACS, London

Confident bidding for works by Yoshitomo Nara, Barbara Kruger and auction newcomer Robert Alice contributed to a final Day Sale total of $36,484,250. 

The top lot of the following morning’s Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale was Henri Matisse’s Jeune fille assise, robe jaune, which sold for $1,086,000. The delicate canvas was painted in 1921-22 at the artist’s newly acquired apartment on Place Charles Félix in Nice and portrays the model Henriette Darricarrère, who was instrumental in Matisse’s evolution into the Modernist heir to the Orientalist tradition. 

A traditional still life painted at a radical juncture in Maurice de Vlaminck’s career, Nature morte au compotier, from 1906-07, sold for $687,500, alongside two later Fauvist landscapes, Pont de Nogent and Paysage de Bougival, both achieving $250,000.  

Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), Nature morte au compotier, 1906-1907. Oil on canvas. 21⅝ x 26 in (54.9 x 66 cm). Sold for $687,500 on 8 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork: © Maurice de Vlaminck / DACS 2020

Barbara Hepworth’s 1967 bronze Six Forms on a Circle also reached $450,000, while strong prices were seen for works by Raoul Dufy, Eugène Boudin, and an early painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The season finished with a dedicated online sale of Robert Motherwell prints from the Dedalus Foundation — an initiative founded in 1981 by the artist to support his legacy. Combined, 37 works achieved $212,625, with the proceeds from the sale benefitting the non-profit organisation. 

Sign up for Going Once, a weekly newsletter delivering our top stories and art market insights to your inbox

Related departments

Related lots

Related auctions

Related content