The billion-dollar sales week returns to Christie’s, led by Impressionist masters from the Cox Collection
In addition to 31 new auction records, the week saw 22 artists — from Van Gogh to Beeple — achieve eight-digit prices
In May 2021, Christie’s made auction house history with its inaugural 20th/21st Century sale week, reflecting a categorial realignment in its auctions’ longstanding nomenclature. This November, Christie’s 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sales realised a combined total of $971,176,750 across three sales and two animated nights of bidding, and a grand total of $1,109,415,750 for the week.
Welcoming bidders back into the salesroom for the first time since 2020, the 20th/21st Century sale week was headlined by the highly anticipated single-owner evening sale, The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism, which totalled $332,031,500 and hammered 160 per cent above low estimate and sold 100 per cent by lot. Immediately after, the 20th Century Evening Sale realised a commanding $419,866,500, hammering 113 per cent above low estimate and selling 92 per cent by lot. The sales followed the 21st Century Evening Sale which totalled $219,278,750 and hammered 114 per cent above low estimate and sold 100 per cent by lot. Bidders dialled in from 27 countries.
Within a newly redesigned Rockefeller Center salesroom, several digital advances proved to create the most engaging, immersive, and global auction room experience yet. The addition of two large screens flanking auctioneers, Gemma Sudlow, Adrien Meyer, and Jussi Pylkkänen, broadcasted real-time bidding from Christie’s London and Hong Kong.
Over 1,200,000 viewers tuned into the livestreamed events on nine different platforms from Christie’s website to various social media channels, including YouTube, Facebook, and WeChat. For the first time ever, those streaming could watch the sale from the auctioneer’s point of view, enabling viewers to experience the best — and busiest — seat in the house.
The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism
This season, Christie’s was honoured to present The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism. For over half a century, the businessman, collector, and philanthropist, Edwin Lochridge Cox, stood at the forefront of civic life in Texas and the greater United States. Now, more than 20 masterpieces from his personal collection have found homes in collections around the globe.
A trio of works by Vincent van Gogh representing the artist’s the final and most important years of his life were among the Cox Collection’s star lots. The top lot of the week, Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès, painted in Saint-Rémy in October 1889, sold to a gentleman in the room for $71,350,000 after a five-minute bidding war against seven other phonelines. Van Gogh’s work reached a climax of expression during his yearlong stay in Saint-Rémy. Sheltered in the seclusion of the asylum, Van Gogh became enamoured with the olive trees and cypresses that punctuated the Provençal landscape. He regarded them as alive with feeling, power, and symbolism, just as he did the sunflowers in Arles.
Selling for $35,855,000, the Van Gogh's earliest work on offer, Meules de blé, was created in Arles in June 1888 and set a record for a work on paper by the artist. Whereas many artists created works on paper as studies or preparatory projects for an oil, Van Gogh practiced both media in dialogue with one another, rendering his works on paper just as radical as his paintings. Another work by the artist from the collection, Jeune homme au bleuet, was painted in Auvers-sur-Oise two months before his death. It achieved $46,732,500 — well above its pre-sale estimate of $5,000,000-7,000,000 — after a nine-minute contest against 11 bidders.
‘It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity to work with a collection that has three works that tell the story of Van Gogh’s mature period in such a beautiful and profound way,’ said Vanessa Fusco, Co-Head of the 20th Century Evening Sale.
Paul Cézanne's L'Estaque aux toits rouges, painted between 1883-1885, was another of the collection’s top lots, having sold for $55,320,000. Exhibited only once since it was painted, L’Estaque aux toits rouges is one of the culminating works of the intense surge of creativity L’Estaque had unleashed in the artist over a series of visits there in the late 1870s and early 1880s.
It was here, far from Paris and secluded from his family in Aix, that the artist conceived a radical new form of landscape painting, paving the way for future generations of artists. Moving beyond the ephemeral, fleeting Impressionist conception of a landscape, Cézanne translated its colours and forms into compositions at once alive with the dazzling light and intense heat of the south, while at the same time remaining monumental, harmonious, and above all, timeless.
Other standouts included Gustave Caillebotte's Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, from 1876, which sold for $53,030,000, as well as Claude Monet's Le bassin d'Argenteuil, from 1874, which achieved $27,840,000. In the former, now an auction record for the artist, Caillebotte presents a view of Parisian bourgeois life in which a young man is captured in a moment of leisurely contemplation as he watches the street life from the comfort of an elegant apartment. The painting, which would later feature in the first large-scale exhibition of Impressionist works in America in 1886, boldly proclaimed the artist’s ambitions and earned him a reputation within the Parisian art scene as an insightful chronicler of contemporary life.
Painted in 1874, the year of the landmark First Impressionist Exhibition, Monet’s Le bassin d’Argenteuil is a quintessential landscape from this breakthrough moment. The landscapes that Monet painted at Argenteuil during the 1870s are regarded as a high point of Impressionism.
The second white glove sale of the week welcomed three new artist records for Gustave Loiseau, Hugh Henry Breckenridge, and Gustave Caillebotte, as well as a record price for a work on paper by Vincent van Gogh.
20th Century Evening Sale
The 20th Century Evening Sale saw impressive results across Modern and post-war art. The sale totalled $419,866,500 and was led by artists such as Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter, and Cy Twombly.
The top lot of the sale was Andy Warhol’s 1982 portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which achieved $40,091,500. From the collection of Peter Brant, the work is thought to be the only example in private hands. It dates from a period which marked the high point of Basquiat’s painterly authority (a Basquiat painting from the same year was the top lot in Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale on 9 November), which also saw a bold new inventiveness appear in Warhol’s work.
Emily Kaplan, Co-Head of the 20th Century Evening Sale remarked, ‘Andy Warhol’s portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, celebrates the remarkable friendship between the two iconic artists. It’s a culmination of Warhol, the established master of Pop art, and Basquiat — it was a true joy to bring this to market.’
This depiction of Basquiat stands as the only known portrait executed in oxidation form, and one of its sister paintings is housed in the permanent collection of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The third example of this painting stayed with Jean-Michel Basquiat for his entire life and remains in the artist’s estate.
Another top lot of the evening was Cy Twombly’s Untitled, from 1961, which sold for $32,000,000. Painted in Italy during one of the most important years of the artist’s career, Untitled is a stunning celebration of the unique aesthetic language that has resulted in the artist becoming one of the most celebrated painters in the 20th century canon. Offering up an encyclopaedic display of enigmatic iconography shrouded in delicate sfumato, this monumental canvas combines the poetic beauty of Twombly’s gestures with his innate understanding of the physicality of painting.
One of Pablo Picasso’s most recognised subjects, Mousquetaire à la pipe II, achieved $34,710,000. It is this 1968 group that marks the peak of Picasso’s interest in the musketeer and includes many of his greatest iterations of this subject. The artist, whose 140th birthday recently passed, had a strong showing of works throughout his career represented in the sale.
Part of an important group of 11 seated portraits that developed out of the artist’s landmark series, Les femmes d’Alger, Femme accroupie en costume turc II (Jacqueline), from 1955, sold for $25,550,000. Another musketeer from the late 1960s, Homme à la pipe, achieved $15,430,000. Paintings from Picasso’s Cubist period, such as Profil, fetched $7,344,500, while Le repas de l’acrobate, a work on paper from his Rose period, sold for $7,144,500.
A monumental and vibrant canvas from 1988, Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild, fetched $27,185,000. Abstraktes Bild looks not at an image but at the paint and process as a starting point. Seeking to visually describe the mixing and melding of colour with kinetic motion, Richter puts his very technique on display. The squeegee became the great equaliser in his working methods and invited more freedom than ever before.
Lee Bontecou’s Untitled, a welded steel, canvas, fabric, velvet, and wire work from 1959-1960 also achieved an artist record at $9,176,500. A monumental example of the wall-mounted steel-and-canvas sculptures for which she is best known, this work is one of only a handful of the artist’s creations of this size and complexity to ever come up at auction. This construction was created in 1959, the first year that Bontecou initiated the series.
Collections yielded strong results across the 20th/21st Century sales: running totals for the Stella Collection, Elene Canrobert Isles de Saint Phalle Collection, and the collection of Hebert Kasper, are $32,127,500, $21,060,000, and $15,656,625, respectively.
21st Century Evening Sale
On 9 November, the week kicked off with an impressive white glove 21st Century Evening Sale. Of the historic feat, head of sale, Ana Maria Celis, said, ‘Having a 100 per cent sell-through rate, plus ten artist records, is a phenomenal achievement. With outstanding results for emerging artists, female artists, diverse artists, NFTs, and works for charitable causes, we are proud to have created a sale that represents our time and the future.’
The top lot of the night was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s The Guilt of Gold Teeth, a monumental canvas from 1982, which sold for $40,000,000. The painting depicts Baron Samedi, a spirit of Haitian Vodou and leader of the Gede.
Held for nearly a quarter of a century in a private collection, this rare work was created at the peak of the artist’s career during his second trip to Modena, Italy, in March of 1982. For this visit, Emilio Mazzoli provided Basquiat with a large studio space, and his artistic practice made a palpable shift. For the first time, the epic scale of his canvases allowed him to express the full scope of his artistic ambitions, while at the same time replicating the urban paintings offered up to him by the buildings of New York, where he developed his highly original artistic language.
The second highest price of the night was set by Peter Doig whose seminal work Swamped (1990) sold for $39,862,500 — a record for the artist. This early masterpiece stands among Doig’s earliest depictions of the canoe, which — along with the cabin — would go on to become the defining motif of his practice. Based on a still from the 1980 cult horror film, Friday the 13th, ‘Swamped’ fuses strains of romance, nostalgia and foreboding with echoes of art history, flickers of the artist’s own memories and abstract painterly techniques.
Among the most anticipated lots of the evening was a selection of NFTs by both new and established artists. After EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS (2021), and the non-fungible token (NFT) associated with it, sold for a staggering $69 million at Christie’s last March, Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, has made history again. From the creator of the first purely-digital NFT artwork offered by a major auction house comes the equally astonishing hybrid physical and digital piece, HUMAN ONE (2021), which sold to an online bidder for $28,985,000.
With HUMAN ONE, Beeple places a lone astronaut, forever striding through the wastes of a vaguely familiar world, within highly polished chromed-out monolith of slowly rotating LED screens. Beeple has pledged that for the rest of his artistic career, he will be update and adjust the visual components of HUMAN ONE — allowing the artist to comment on world events as they unfold in real time. This radical technical flourish will allow for a new paradigm of trust to exist between artist and collector.
Several charitable lots also brought in impressive results. Nicolas Party’s Landscape (2021), which is one of 18 works being offered in UNQUESTIONING LOVE: An Auction to Benefit the New York City AIDS Memorial, soared to a record price within seconds of the bid opening. Fetching over 10 times the low estimate Landscape achieved $3,270,000. Dana Schutz’s Smokers (2021) realised $1,830,000, with notable prices also achieved in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale. The proceeds of these sales will help create a vital and strategic fund that will ensure the preservation of the AIDS Memorial’s physical space and support and strengthen years of arts, cultural, and educational programs to come.
Offered to benefit ClientEarth, Rashid Johnson’s Bruise Painting “Or Down You Fall” from 2021 achieved $2,550,000, a record for the artist and well above its $650,000-800,000 estimate. This work is a winding illustration of the artist’s recent Bruise Painting series, which evolved out of Johnson’s 2015-17 Anxious Men series. Christie’s set the previous record for Johnson in May 2021 when the artist’s Anxious Red Painting December 18th sold for $1,950,000.
A formidable component of the 21st Century Evening Sale and Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale was IMAGE WORLD: Property from a Private American Collection, which celebrates pioneering artists of the Pictures Generation, works by Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger, Christopher Wool, and others achieved $45,688,250, with more works to come this season.
After two hours of animated bidding, the 21st Century Evening Sale totalled $219,278,750 and set ten new auction records for Xinyi Cheng, Hilary Pecis, Nicholas Party, Issy Wood, Stanley Whitney, Peter Doig, Jacqueline Humphries, Barbara Kruger, Rashid Johnson, and Kenny Scharf.
The 20th/21st sales continued on 12 November 2021 with the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale, which achieved $94,180,125. The top lot of the sale was Mark Rothko’s Untitled (1961), which achieved $8,489,500 — the highest price realised outside of a 20th/21st Century Evening Sale. The sale brought in 10 new artist records for Danielle Orchard, Deborah Roberts, Noah Davis, Trevor Paglen, Ernie Barnes, Amy Sillman, Oluwole Omofemi, Marley Freeman, Jennifer Guidi, and Tseng Kwong Chi, as well as five records for works on paper by Rashid Johnson, Salman Toor, Lee Krasner, Christina Quarles, and Eddie Martinez. The Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper sales on 13 November 2021 achieved a combined total of $42,309,875, and set an auction record for Suzanne Valadon. The Picasso Ceramics Sale finished the week, realising $1,749,000.