20th/21st Century sale week exceeds billion-dollar mark, anchored by the historic sale of Warhol’s Marilyn
Big names such as Monet, Rothko, Pollock and Picasso led the evening sales, where 49 new artist records were achieved
On 9 May, Christie’s 20th/21st Century sale week in New York commenced with The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann Evening Sale. The sale concluded with auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s Global President, hammering down Andy Warhol's Shot Sage Blue Marilyn for a record $195,040,000, making it the most expensive 20th-century artwork ever sold at auction. The first sale of the week totalled $317,806,490, selling 94 per cent by lot and 98 per cent by value.
The 21st Century Evening Sale took place the following evening, Tuesday 10 May. Led by auctioneer Georgina Hilton, Head of Classic Art, Asia Pacific, the sale totalled $103,064,200, selling 100 per by lot and 114 per cent above the low estimate.
Thursday evening opened with a white glove sale hammered in by auctioneer and Co-Chairman of the Impressionist and Modern Art department, Adrien Meyer. The Collection of Anne H. Bass totalled $363,087,500, selling 129 per cent above the low estimate. The 20th Century Evening Sale immediately followed, realising an impressive $468,174,000, selling 119 per cent above the low estimate and 98 per cent by lot. The last lot of the night marked the debut of the iconic Raptor at auction: the most complete Deinonychus skeleton ever found sold for $12,412,500.
The evening sales reached a combined total of $1,264,544,690, with registered bidders across the globe. 3.7 million viewers worldwide have also logged on to enjoy the action virtually. The week's running total is $1,443,453,184.
The Collection of Anne H. Bass
This season, Christie’s was honoured to offer the collection of Anne H. Bass. During her lifetime, Mrs. Bass was acknowledged as much for her refined taste and timeless style as for her generosity as a philanthropist and patron of the arts. Buyers eagerly snapped up the 12 works — including masterpieces by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Mark Rothko — from Mrs. Bass’s iconic Mark Hampton-designed Manhattan apartment, marking a white glove sale for one of the most important American collections to appear on the market in decades.
‘Every single work Anne H. Bass collected was of the highest quality. Everyone who came into our galleries, read the catalogue or participated tonight was inspired by this collection,’ said Max Carter, Christie’s Head of Impressionist and Modern Art.
Among the collection’s star lots were a trio of paintings by Monet, spanning the full breadth of the artist’s mature oeuvre. The top lot of the evening was Le Parlement, soleil couchant (1903), one of the artist’s finest views of London. It sold for $75,960,000 after a fierce six-minute contest between seven bidders. Monet’s monumental Vues de Londres series, of which Le Parlement, soleil couchant is a shining example, remains among his signal achievements; he transformed the city into magical visions at once timeless and modern.
Monet’s Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, completed in 1891, sold for $36,457,500. The painting is among the most dynamic and richly worked paintings in the artist’s poplar series, capturing the trees as the season shifts. The third major series picture by Monet in the collection — the 1907 Nymphéas, from his ethereal visions of his beloved water gardens at Giverny — achieved $56,495,000, rounding out a strong showing for the artist.
A pair of red Rothkos from 1961-62 were also standout lots of the evening. Untitled (Shades of Red) sold for $66,800,000, fetching the second highest price in the sale. Painted in 1961, Rothko’s Untitled (Shades of Red) forcefully captures the mysterious emotional intensity that lies at the heart of the artist’s work. Painted the same year as the artist’s seminal mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, it displays the self-assurance of an artist at the height of his painterly powers. The painting’s counterpart, Rothko’s No. 1 (1962), achieved $49,625,000.
After an animated hour of bidding, the sale welcomed new artist records for Vilhelm Hammershøi and Edgar Degas. Degas’s largest and best-known sculpture, Petite danseuse de quatorze, realised $41,610,000, a record for a sculpture by the artist. The iconic sculpture synthesises Degas’s extensive work on his beloved theme of the dance, encapsulating the conflicting concepts of artifice and reality that define so much of his art.
20th Century Evening Sale
The 20th Century Evening Sale saw strong results across Impressionist, Modern and post-war art. Works by Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso and Warhol brought in the top results of the evening, driving the sale to an impressive $468,174,000.
‘Once again tonight we saw the strength of the 20th and 21st Century Sale format. With this season’s 20th Century Sale, we continued to expand and diversify the artists represented,’ said Vanessa Fusco, Co-Head of the 20th Century Evening Sale.
‘Notably, we included nine works by female artists, and two achieved new artist records — Howardena Pindell and Grace Hartigan,’ added Emily Kaplan, Co-Head of the 20th Century Evening Sale. ‘It was also a very exciting record for Ernie Barnes at his first time in an evening sale.’
The sale was led by Jackson Pollock’s Number 31, which achieved $54,205,000. An explosive maelstrom of raw colour, the painting exemplifies the artist’s celebrated drip technique, and is a profound icon from a seminal moment in the development of 20th-century art. Painted in a flurry of brilliant artistic activity toward the end of 1949, Number 31 bears witness to Pollock in full command of his medium.
The second highest price of the sale was $51,915,000, brought in by Van Gogh’s Champs près des Alpilles (1889). Depicting an expansive vista that spans a vivid green wheatfield, with rows of olive trees and the soaring peaks of the Alpilles in the background, this landscape embodies both the signature subjects as well as the radical, expressive handling that Van Gogh developed in the asylum at Saint-Rémy, his home for a year in 1889-1890.
Exceptional works, including Warhol’s Skull (1976), Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXI (1977), Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s portrait of Berthe Morisot and Julie Manet and a trio of paintings by Monet, also brought in eight-digit figures.
Among these impressive results was Picasso’s first major sculpture, Tête de femme (Fernande), which achieved $48,480,000, a record for the medium by the artist. It was sold by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to benefit the Acquisition Fund. The 1909 bronze not only marks the culmination of an important series of portraits of the artist’s first love but also stands as a key moment in the development of Cubism.
Another icon of the evening, Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) achieved $45,045,000, following a five-minute showdown between two bidders. Printed in textbooks, on US postage stamps and the back of New Jersey’s state quarter, the emblematic composition of General George Washington making his heroic journey across the Delaware has been reproduced and reimagined more than almost any other painting in American history.
After an hour and a half of lively bidding, the sale saw five artists achieve new records, including works by Howardena Pindell, Grace Hartigan, Ernie Barnes, Blinky Palermo and Leutze. Picasso also set a record for the medium. A high point of the sale was Lot 29: Barnes’ The Sugar Shack (1976). After Meyer announced 22 phone lines, a frenzy erupted, resulting in more than 10 minutes of intense bidding. The painting achieved $15,275,000, going for more than 75 times its high estimate. Transporting viewers to the Durham Armory in 1952, an iconic dance hall in North Carolina, The Sugar Shack stands as a celebratory portrayal of Black joy within the segregated South.
The exciting night concluded with the debut of the Raptor at auction, the most complete Deinonychus skeleton ever discovered. The sleek, dynamic, and deadly Deinonychus — famous for appearing as the Raptor alongside T. rex in Jurassic Park — is one of the most popular and well-known dinosaur species, as well as one of the rarest fossils. The specimen sold for $12,412,500 — double its high estimate — marking the second highest price achieved by a dinosaur at auction.
21st Century Evening Sale
The 21st Century Evening sale was led by Gerhard Richter, Christopher Wool, Yoshitomo Nara and also featured a diverse array of young artists, almost a third of whom are women. Of the sale, which totalled $103,064,200, sale head Ana Maria Celis commented, ‘We achieved 10 records this evening, both by artists new to our sales, as well as established artists within the category. It's exciting to see the diverse perspectives, including women and artists from all over the world, reflecting the growth in contemporary art.
‘I think that’s really what the 21st Century Sale that we started about a year ago is all about.’
The highlight of the evening was Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (1994), which sold for $36,500,000. Formerly in the collection Heiner Pietzsch and his wife Ulla, and latterly the legendary guitarist Eric Clapton, Abstraktes Bild is a magnificent example from one of the most celebrated bodies of work from the past 50 years. At nearly seven feet square, the kaleidoscopic surface of myriad colourful hues cements Richter as one of the great colourists of the late 20th century. The artist's intention is not to fool the eye into recreating an image of a landscape; the effect is deliberately ambiguous, seeming to conceal and reveal.
After an hour and a half of bidding, the sale saw 10 artists achieve new records, including works by Anna Weyant, Shara Hughes, Matthew Wong, Ewa Juszkiewicz, Reggie Burrows Hodges, Tom Sachs, Eric Fischl, Helmut Newton, Joel Mesler and Ouattara Watts.
Weyant was the youngest artist in the sale. Her Summertime (2020) kicked off the evening, resulting in an eight-minute international bidding frenzy that more than doubled her auction record at $1,500,000, against a high estimate of $300,000. The moment affirmed her status as one of the most exciting young artists on the market today.
Hughes’ Spins from Swiss (2017), realised the same year as her inclusion in the Whitney Biennial, sold for $2,940,000, while Wong’s eight-by-six feet Green Room (2017) sold for $5,340,000 — more than double its high estimate.
Portrait of a Lady (After Louis Leopold Boilly) (2019), Juszkiewicz’s surreal portrait, generated $1,560,000, all of which will benefit the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. Housing a range of educational activities and conferences in addition to exhibitions, the museum serves as a vibrant platform for dialogue and spreading knowledge of Jewish history and heritage.
The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann
Swiss siblings Doris and Thomas were indisputable leaders in the art world and cofounders of Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, one of the most influential art spaces in Europe. The 9 May sale marked the first of two auctions dedicated to this exceptional collection. All of the Foundation’s proceeds from the sales will benefit the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation, a newly established organisation dedicated to improving the lives of children worldwide.
‘The Ammann collection illustrates the importance of the relationships that Thomas and Doris had with the artists they collected. From Andy Warhol to Mary Heilmann and Ann Craven, many artists they championed achieved records,’ says Johanna Flaum, Head of Department, Post-War and Contemporary Art. ‘We’re thrilled that the passion the Ammanns felt for these artists was reflected in the bidders’ enthusiasm tonight.’
In the night’s highly anticipated finale, Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) became not only the most expensive 20th century artwork to sell at auction, but also the second most expensive work to sell at auction of all time — just behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold at Christie’s in 2017.
The buyer of Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn will be invited to partner with the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation by nominating where 20 per cent of the proceeds from Warhol’s Marilyn will be allocated, subject to the Foundation’s final approval.
Central to Warhol's pantheon of pop icons, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn immortalises Monroe as the embodiment of celebrity, while cementing her image into the art historical canon. As an emblem of the American Pop Art movement, Marilyn represented the optimism and individuality and of the post-war Renaissance, fame, and celebrity. And yet, 60 years after Monroe’s untimely death, Warhol’s image has become so much more than the symbol of a single artistic movement. Marilyn is a masterpiece, not bound to time or place.
Achieving $21,000,000 — the second highest price of the night — Untitled is an outstanding virtuosic early work from 1955 that announces Cy Twombly’s arrival as an artist. Across its pale, hypnotic expanse, opposing forces give birth to a new visual poetry: line and form, painting and drawing, creation and erasure are bound together in an electrifying, intractable script. Selling for $16,992,500, Twombly’s Venere Sopra Gaeta (1988) was another one of the evening’s top lots. A sculpture by the artist achieved $2,700,000. The three works demonstrate the Ammanns’ commitment to the artist, who was a close friend.
In addition to befriending and supporting well-known names, such as Warhol and Twombly, the Ammanns’ sought out and fostered more hidden talents. The night kicked off with a bang with Mike Bidlo’s Not Picasso (Bather with Beachball, 1932) (1982) selling for $1,260,000, three times the artist’s previous record.
Other standouts include Francesco Clemente’s The Fourteen Stations, No. XI (1981-82), which sold for $1,860,000 against an estimate of $80,000-120,000, and more than doubled the artist’s former auction record as well as Craven’s I Wasn't Sorry, 2003, which sold over eight times higher than the artist’s previous record.
After nearly two hours of animated bidding, The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann Evening Sale totalled $317,806,490 and set seven new auction records for Warhol, as well as Bidlo, Clemente, Heilmann, Craven, Martin Disler, Ross Bleckner. Urs Fischer also set a record for the medium.
The Surrealist World of Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs
On 14 May with the Surrealist World of Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs achieved $42,330,074, selling 92 per cent by lot and 182 per cent above the low estimate. The top lot of the sale was Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres, from 1924, which achieved $12,412,500 — a record for the artist and the highest price ever realised for a photograph at auction. Rosalind, known as Roz, first encountered the piece while visiting the artist’s 1962 retrospective as a guest of Man Ray himself.
Roz and Mel’s collection began in 1955, when William and Noma Copley, patrons of the arts and artists themselves, generously gave Roz their René Magritte gouache, Eloge de la dialectique, as a birthday present. Now, almost 70 years later, the success of this single-owner live sale is testament both to her eye, and the friendships she formed with these outstanding artists.
The second highest price was achieved was Magritte’s L’autre son de cloche, an enigmatic work from 1951 that draws the puzzled viewer into his poetic landscape, which brought in $10,122,500. Idiomatically, the work’s title translates to ‘A Different Version of Events’ — a phrase which speaks to how the Surrealists themselves sought to reinterpret the world around them.
In addition to Man Ray, works by Richard Humphry, Dorothea Tanning, Wiliam Nelson Copley, Noma Copley and Gilbert & George also set auction records.
20/21 Day Sales
The Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale including works from the Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann took place on 13 May. The sale totalled $97,166,838, selling 93 per cent sold by lot and 151 per cent above the low estimate. All 66 lots from the Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann Day Sale found buyers. The sale welcomed 17 new artist records for Rosalyn Drexler, Janet Cooling, Michael Mogavero, Milo Reice, Alessandro Twombly, Rainer Fetting, Tim Rollins & K.O.S., Tom of Finland, Lois Lane, Deborah Kass, Klaudia Schifferle, Lynne Drexler, Godwin Champs Namuyimba, Louis Fratino, En Iwamura, Jenny Holzer, Todd Bienvenue.
The Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper and Day Sale took place 14 May, and realised a combined total of $37,154,922, selling 85 per cent by lot and 103 per cent above the low estimate. The top lot of the sale was an oil painting by Monet, Soleil couchant, temps brumeux, Pourville, which achieved $5,100,000, becoming the most expensive work ever sold in a Day Sale in the Impressionist and Modern Art category at Christie’s.
The Picasso Ceramics sale totaled $2,256,660 and was 100% sold by lot and 212% sold above the low estimate.