Franz Marc leads historic 20th/21st Century Art auction series of modern and contemporary masterpieces
In a market first, Christie’s historic Shanghai to London sale series tops £249 million; Franz Marc’s The Foxes makes top price at £42,654,500; new records set for 10 artists including Mario Schifano, Gabriele Münter and Eugène Boudin
On 1 March, Christie’s launched the inaugural 20th/21st Century: Shanghai to London sale series, a pioneering cultural dialogue between two major international art hubs, live-streamed from Christie’s in Shanghai and London and incorporating salerooms in Hong Kong and New York.
The historic series coincides with the opening of Christie’s new gallery at Shanghai’s Bund One and marks the first time an auction house has offered pre-1949 artworks in mainland China.
‘The relay auction marks an extraordinary start for our Shanghai gallery,’ says Evelyn Lin, co-head of 20th and 21st Century Art, Christie’s Asia Pacific. ‘We hope to continue to share the vibrant creativity as we deepen our connections with collectors in China.’
The series of three evening sales, which showcased exceptional artworks by 20th-century artists alongside contemporary names, realised a combined total of £249,070,155 // CNY 2,087,955,108 // $344,003,078 // €297,389,765 (including buyer’s premium). The series sold 90 per cent by lot and 93 per cent by value, demonstrating the sustained global appetite for art from the 20th and 21st centuries.
The series opened in Shanghai with the 20th/21st Century: Shanghai Evening Sale, which realised CNY 222,030,200. Later, in London, the 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale achieved £182,696,006. The evening drew to a close with the 21st edition of The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale, the only global auction dedicated to Surrealism and Dada, which totalled £39,888,380.
In Shanghai, auctioneer Caroline Liang took bids from clients in the saleroom, through phone banks and via Christie’s LIVE online bidding channel. In London, the Evening Sale was conducted by Jussi Pylkkänen and Veronica Scarpati, who also helmed The Art of the Surreal sale.
Across the three sales, registered bidders from 34 countries and five continents reflected the strength of global demand, with 21 per cent of buyers from the Americas, 31 per cent from Asia Pacific and 49 per cent from Europe and the Middle East. Collectors under the age of 40 accounted for 28 per cent of registrants.
The 20th/21st Century: Shanghai Evening Sale
Shanghai’s inaugural sale in Bund One sold 95 per cent by lot and 90 per cent by value, and represented a 50 per cent increase since Christie’s last auction in mainland China, in 2019.
Leading the sale of 20 lots was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Il Duce (1982), which achieved CNY 94,160,000. Painted during a pivotal year in his short but explosive career, it depicts one of the artist’s iconic ‘heads’ against a gleaming golden background.
With its frenetic painterly gestures, a network of enigmatic signs and symbols and dramatic use of colour, it exemplifies Basquiat’s revolutionary approach to portraiture. The work represents Basquiat’s auction debut in mainland China.
The second highest price was for Zao Wou-Ki’s Le soir à l’Hôtel du Palais (Palace Hotel by Night), which reached CNY 24,360,000. Inspired by the Atlantic Ocean around Biarritz in the southwest of France, it conveys Zao’s emotional connection with the sea during his travels in the summer of 2004, the year he completed the work.
Kees van Dongen’s La femme au collier, painted in Paris in 1908, sold for CNY 23,160,000. Depicting a model wearing a hat, with heavily kohled eyes and rouged lips, it exemplifies the artist’s ability to capture the vitality and modernity of the French capital in the first decade of the 20th century.
There was also strong interest in contemporary artists. After a spirited international bidding battle, Amoako Boafo’s Orange Shirt (2019) achieved CNY 8,760,000, nearly triple the low estimate. Joel Mesler’s Untitled (You Deserve Great Things), from 2020, soared past its high estimate, achieving CNY 5,670,000, as did Scott Kahn’s 2016 work Into the Woods.
Ewa Juszkiewicz’s 2014 Untitled also attracted international competition. Estimated at CNY 220,000-500,000, it finally sold for CNY 3,276,000 to a bidder in Shanghai. Emmanuel Taku’s Ripped (2021) fetched CNY 1,638,000, more than eight times the pre-sale estimate, and a world auction record for the artist; while Ye Linghan’s Lucy-C-006 (2017-18) was pursued by bidders in Shanghai and Hong Kong before selling for CNY 529,200 to Hong Kong.
The final lot of the sale, Colors (2020) by Edgar Plans, saw competition from London, Hong Kong and Shanghai before achieving CNY 4,410,000, more than five times the high estimate.
The 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale
Following the Shanghai leg was the 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale, which sold 86 per cent by lot and 93 per cent by value. The star of the sale was Franz Marc’s 1913 masterpiece The Foxes, which sold for £42,654,500, more than triple the previous auction record for the artist.
Restituted in 2021 by the city of Düsseldorf to the heirs of the Jewish banker and businessman Kurt Grawi and his wife Else, the work signifies a key moment in the artist’s career following the formation of Der Blaue Reiter in 1911.
‘The year 1913 is a key one for Marc,’ said Keith Gill, head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s in London. ‘He is experimenting with a new dynamic visual language, inspired by Orphism and Futurism, which would become his leaping-off point into abstraction.’
The second highest price was paid for Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7, one of the artist’s last great paintings, which achieved £38,459,206.
Exhibited widely and offered at auction for the first time, it encapsulates Bacon’s contemplation of pain, isolation and mortality in the face of history’s ruthless advance, and coincides with the Royal Academy of Art’s exhibition Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.
Lucian Freud’s Girl with Closed Eyes (1986-87), a tender portrait of his muse and fellow artist Janey Longman, achieved £15,174,500 at its auction debut. Also offered was Freud’s Lobster (1944), which sold for £1,962,000.
Later, Pablo Picasso’s Le repas frugal, from The Berggruen Family Collection, sold to New York and a round of applause for £6,014,500, a world record for any print at auction. Peter Doig’s Some Houses on Iron Hill saw competitive bidding across Christie’s global salesrooms before selling for £2,442,000, more than triple its high estimate.
Other strong performers included Eugène Boudin’s proto-Impressionist La plage de Trouville (1863), which sold for £2,262,000, setting a new world record for the artist at auction. Gabriele Münter’s Gelbes Haus mit Apfelbaum (recto); Landschaft (verso) also established an artist record at £1,782,000.
Nicolas Party’s Pink Tulips, meanwhile, sold to a bidder in London for £1,722,000, nearly triple the high estimate. Also selling above estimate were Stanley Whitney’s Great Balls of Fire at £1,482,000 and Mario Schifano’s Grande Particolare (Large Detail), which achieved £882,000 — a new world record for the artist at auction. Antony Gormley’s Root sold for £441,000 as part of Christie’s ongoing initiative Artists for ClientEarth, bringing the total raised for the environmental charity to £4,989,064 (hammer price).
Auction records were also set for Angel Otero, with Riders on the Storm rising to £252,000; Victor Man, whose D with Raven sold for £214,200; and Billy Childish, with toward a shore realising £163,800.
There were robust results for a group of contemporary artists whose work continues to gather strength on the market. Flora Yukhnovich’s 2017 painting Tu vas me faire rougir (You’re going to make me blush) realised £1,902,000; while Amoako Boafo’s Yellow Blanket, from 2008, more than doubled its high estimate at £1,242,000.
Acquainted Intruder (2018) by Jadé Fadojutimi, whose work was included in the 2021 exhibition Mixing It Up at London’s Hayward Gallery, more than tripled its low estimate at £942,000.
The sale closed on a high as Woman #5672, a rare NFT from the highly sought-after World of Women portrait series, sold for £567,000 to a bidder in London on the first day of Women’s History Month. The work was created and selected for sale by an artist and an online community on a mission to rebalance gender representation in the digital realm.
The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale
Sold 100 per cent by lot, The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale was led by Picasso’s 1929 La fenêtre ouverte, a coded double-portrait of the artist and his muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter.
‘The arrival of Marie-Thérèse in Picasso’s life not only invigorated every area of his work, it was also a pivotal moment that completely changed his style and focus from then on,’ said Christie’s deputy chairman Olivier Camu.
Dating from the high point of Picasso’s Surrealist period, La fenêtre ouverte represents a brilliant fusion of the different passions and inspirations that defined the artist’s life at the end of the 1920s. Held in the same European collection for half a century and offered at auction for the first time, it sold for £16,319,500.
The second highest price was realised by René Magritte’s La lumière du pôle (1926-27), which features a pair of cracked and partially broken mannequins in a desert-like landscape of steep-sided sand dunes. Infused with an inscrutable sense of mystery, it sold for £5,993,500.
Later, Joan Miró’s 1978 work Personnage, oiseau, étoile dans un paysage attracted bids across the global salerooms before selling for £3,042,000. There was also competitive bidding for Paul Delvaux’s Le soir tombe (1970), a large, enigmatic canvas featuring a number of the artist’s signature tropes: ethereal female nudes, deserted trains and abandoned classical temples. Consigned to auction for the first time since it was painted more than 50 years ago, it realised £1,902,000.
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With active bidding in the room and online, Yves Tanguy’s 1935 painting L’empalmage cruised past its high estimate, selling for £529,200. Other notable results included Salvador Dalí’s Le cheval de Troie (1969), which soared above estimate before realising £415,800; and Victor Brauner’s Inclusion morphogène, from 1960, which nearly doubled its high estimate at £239,400.
Christie’s 20th/21st Century Art series continued in London with the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale on 2 March, which realised a total of £14,168,940 // CNY 117,474,682 // $18,802,183 // €16,931,883. Six world auction records were set, alongside sell-through rates of 89 per cent by lot and 98 per cent by value. Led by Banksy’s Love is in the Air (2002) at £978,000, the auction highlighted a global appetite for works by contemporary painters, with Flora Yukhnovich, Hilary Pecis and Paula Rego achieving competitive results.
First Open: Post-War and Contemporary Art Online remains open for bidding until 9 March 2022.