A record-breaking year at Christie’s: 2021 in numbers
Whether you were after an Old Master or an NFT, an Hermès handbag or a rare champagne, Christie’s was the place to be this year, with outstanding results both in our salerooms and online
Beeple’s EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS became the first purely digital work of art ever offered at auction. Created over 5,000 days, it fetched more than $69 million, setting the record for the most expensive work sold online.
It was one of 75 NFTs offered by Christie’s this year, sales of which topped $140 million. Other highlights included Larva Labs’ CryptoPunks; five digital artworks made by the 18-year-old transgender artist FEWOCiOUS, presented as part of Christie’s Pride programme; and the record-setting success of Christie’s first NFT auction in Asia, No Time Like Present, which achieved a total of HK$121,642,750 ($15.6 million).
Christie’s also hosted sales of NFTs in the fields of luxury, design and fashion, collaborating with brands such as Gucci and collectables giant Superplastic. On 1 December Christie’s launched its first ever on-chain NFT auction in collaboration with OpenSea, the world’s leading NFT marketplace.
‘The NFT market is here to stay,’ says Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti. ‘We will continue to invest in the opportunities NFTs offer us to deeply engage with new audiences and artists, an exciting new generation of collectors, and more expansive and inclusive markets.’
Works by El Greco, De Witte and the Master of Frankfurt — seized from the Vienna apartment of Julius and Camilla Priester in the early years of the Second World War and restituted to their heirs over the past 15 years — were highlights of the December Old Masters Evening Sale at Christie’s in London. All three sold on or above estimate, with El Greco’s Portrait of a Gentleman (1570) realising £1,222,500.
Stanley Donwood is the artist behind Radiohead’s album covers. Between 1999 and 2001, he created paintings in response to the albums Kid A and Amnesiac, six of which were offered as part of the First Open: Post-War and Contemporary Art Online sale (5-19 October). They all sold above their £10,000-15,000 estimates, with Residential Nemesis (1999) fetching a record price of £137,000.
Several hundred drawings by Leonardo da Vinci survive to this day. Head of a Bear, however, is one of just eight in private hands (if we exclude works in Britain’s Royal Collection and the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth House).
Executed in silverpoint in the early 1480s, shortly before Leonardo quit Florence for Milan, it is thought to have played a part in one of his finest paintings, Lady with an Ermine (1489-90), now housed in the National Museum in Krakow. (The ermine’s head seems to have been inspired by that of the silverpoint bear.) Head of a Bear sold for £8,857,500 at Christie’s in London, setting a new world record for a drawing by the artist.
A dozen lots pertaining to Charles Darwin, from letters to first editions, were offered in the Valuable Books and Manuscripts sale on 15 December at Christie’s in London. Among the highlights was a microscope used by the scientist — which he later gave to his son Leonard. One of only six surviving examples known to have belonged to him, and the first ever to come to auction, it sold for £598,500, a world auction record for a 19th-century microscope.
The weight in carats of the Sakura diamond, below, the largest purple-pink flawless diamond ever sold at auction. Offered in Magnificent Jewels at Christie’s in Hong Kong, it realised HK$223,412,500, making it the most valuable jewel sold at Christie’s in 2021.
Only 16 complete Ming dragon carpets are known to exist. On 23 November one of these sold for €6,881,000, nearly double its low estimate, in The Exceptional Sale in Paris.
It depicts two five-clawed dragons chasing a flaming pearl, with scrolling clouds above and rolling waves beneath. Like all Ming carpets, this example was once a dark imperial red which has now faded to a golden yellow.
Bought by an American couple on their honeymoon in 1920, the carpet would originally have been placed beneath the emperor’s throne in Beijing’s Forbidden City. ‘It is in amazing condition,’ said Christie’s specialist Louise Broadhurst. ‘It’s rare to find one that hasn’t been cut in some way.’
In 1797, aged 24, Fath ’Ali Shah assumed the Persian throne, succeeding his much-feared uncle, Agha Mohammad Shah. During his 37-year reign, he commissioned countless depictions of himself, as well as a number of murals for his palaces in and around Tehran.
A panel from one such mural, above, depicting 24 of Fath ’Ali Shah’s sons and grandsons, more than doubled its low estimate when it sold for £2,302,500 at Christie’s in London.
The panel, which was painted by the esteemed Abdallah Khan and his assistants shortly after 1810, was purchased in 1921 by the American painter and collector Frederic Clay Bartlett, who later installed it in Bonnet House, his newly built home in Fort Lauderdale. It remained in the collection of Bonnet House Museum & Gardens until it came to Christie’s in April.
The number of young, emerging and mid-career artists who featured in Bold Black British (1-21 October), a selling exhibition curated by Aindrea Emelife to showcase the legacy and influence of Black British artists from the 1980s to the present day.
Coinciding with Frieze Week in London and Black History Month in the UK, it included works by Amber Pinkerton, Lakwena, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones and Olivia Sterling, as well as Sonia Boyce and Marlene Smith, leading artists from the British Black Arts Movement.
Over the course of 30 years, Elaine and Alexandre Rosenberg assembled one of the world’s finest collections of illuminated manuscripts and incunabula (early printed books from before 1501).
Seventeen illuminated manuscripts and more than 200 incunabula from their collection were offered in a single-owner sale that realised a total of $12,405,625, hammering 142 per cent above low estimate.
Leading the collection was an illuminated Book of Hours, circa 1440, above, by the Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus, which achieved $3,630,000 — more than double the low estimate. All proceeds of the sale went to the Morgan Library, the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA and the Redwood Athenaeum.
A 54-page working manuscript, written by Albert Einstein and the Swiss-Italian engineer Michele Besso, broke the record for an autographed scientific document when it sold for €11,656,560 on 23 November at Christie’s in Paris.
Written between June 1913 and early 1914, the Einstein-Besso Manuscript expands on the theory of relativity Einstein had published in 1905. It features 26 pages in Einstein’s hand and 25 in Besso’s, with three pages of entries by both. Apart from a manuscript held in the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it is the only surviving work detailing the genesis of general relativity.
The height and width in centimetres of Banksy’s Game Changer, which appeared in Southampton General Hospital on 6 May 2020 as a thank-you to staff during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The painting, which shows a boy playing with a superhero doll dressed in the international uniform of the Red Cross, sold for a world-record price, raising more than £16,000,000 for National Health Service community healthcare and well-being projects. The underbidder on the work placed a final bid of £14,300,000, the highest to date on Christie’s LIVE.
On 26 November the French artist Françoise Gilot turned 100. To celebrate her centenary year, Christie’s staged a solo Private Sales exhibition at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, featuring more than 30 works from across Gilot’s career. ‘At my age I sometimes tire of life,’ Gilot said, ‘but I never tire of painting.’
This year saw the continuation of Christie’s global partnership with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Kicking off the year was 1-54 Paris at Christie’s (20-23 January), a unique in-person fair that welcomed 20 international galleries presenting work by leading contemporary artists from Africa and its diaspora.
This was followed by a web-based collaboration — 1-54 Online, Powered by Christie’s — with the seventh edition of the fair in New York (17-23 May) and the ninth edition in London (14-17 October). The innovative platform allowed visitors to browse highlights of the fair online and to view additional works from participating galleries. These online collaborations were accompanied by physical exhibitions at Christie’s Rockefeller Center and Christie’s King Street.
Lots from Roger Federer’s collection of tennis memorabilia were sold to benefit the Roger Federer Foundation, which aims to give vulnerable children in southern Africa and Switzerland access to a quality education. ‘Every item [reminds] me of great moments of my career so far,’ Federer told Christie’s ahead of the summer sales.
The live auction on 23 June featured 20 lots connected to Federer’s Grand Slam triumphs, while the online sale offered 300 more accessibly priced lots connected to matches played across the globe from 2000 to the present day. The two sales realised a combined total of £3,392,875, selling 100 per cent by lot and achieving more than three times the pre-sale low estimate.
On 22 December 2020, Lionel Messi netted his 644th goal for FC Barcelona, breaking the record for the most goals scored for a single club. The signed, game-worn Adidas boots used to score the goal against Real Valladolid sold for £125,000 in an online charity auction, with proceeds benefiting the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona — specifically, its Arts and Health project for ill children.
The Finest and Rarest Wines & Spirits auction (2 and 3 December) in London realised a total of £7,629,753, the highest ever for the category at Christie’s.
Among the treasures was a rare bottle of Perrier-Jouët Brut Millésimé from 1874 (above), which achieved a record price of £42,875. The cuvée was blended less than a decade after the end of the American Civil War by Charles Perrier, son of the company’s founder, using the finest Chardonnay grapes from Cramant — and the bottle hadn’t left the cellars since. Also included was a bespoke tasting experience at the home of Perrier-Jouët, the Maison Belle Epoque in Epernay.
Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque (1943) — the only painting created by Winston Churchill during the Second World War, and which he gave to Franklin D. Roosevelt for his birthday — sold for £8,285,000 in Christie’s Modern British Art Evening Sale, setting a new world record for the artist at auction.
Churchill painted the landscape following the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. He had invited FDR to stay an extra day in Morocco and take the 150-mile drive with him to Marrakech, insisting he must see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.
After the American delegation had departed, Churchill remained at the villa an additional day, taking the opportunity to paint the view of the Koutoubia Mosque framed by the mountains. When Churchill sent the painting to Roosevelt, he wrote that it was ‘a memento’ of the altogether too brief interlude they had shared ‘in the crash of war’.
Jean-Michel Basquiat said that 1982 was the year he ‘made the best paintings ever’. One of these was Warrior, which was offered in a single-lot sale on 23 March at Christie’s in Hong Kong. Painted on a panel measuring 183 by 122 cm, it depicts a full-length male figure holding in his right hand a sword that is unsheathed, raised and ready to strike. It sold for HK$323,600,000 via livestream from London to Hong Kong, becoming the most valuable Western work ever to be offered in Asia.
Christie’s reimagined spring 20th and 21st Century evening sales, streamed live from Rockefeller Center in New York, surpassed $691 million and set 24 new artist records. The 20th Century Evening Sale realised a commanding $481,114,000, selling 98 per cent by lot, while the inaugural 21st Century Evening Sale totalled $210,471,500 and hammered 123 per cent above low estimate.
The top price of the week was Pablo Picasso’s 1932 Femme assise près d'une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse), one of the final great portraits from that seminal year. Following an intense 19-minute battle between six bidders, it sold for $103,410,000, making it the first masterpiece to sell for more than $100 million in two years.
In March, Christie’s announced its sustainability initiative, pledging to be net zero by 2030. ‘As a market leader, Christie’s has a special responsibility in terms of protecting our environment and building a more sustainable business for now and for the future,’ says CEO Guillaume Cerutti.
In line with this goal, Christie’s New York offered Dana Schutz’s painting The Fishermen (2021), below, with the proceeds from the sale going to support the permanent conversion of 2.5 million acres of land in partnership with Art to Acres, an artist-run non-profit organisation. It realised $2,970,000.
Christie’s London, meanwhile, offered Cecily Brown’s There’ll be bluebirds (2019), the first of a series of works donated by artists and galleries to help fund Artists for ClientEarth, a joint initiative to combat climate change. It cruised past its high estimate of £700,000, selling for £3,502,500 to a telephone bidder. The Artists for ClientEarth initiative will continue into 2022.
Just over 68 years ago, a unique watch — the Rolex Deep Sea Special No. 1 — went to a place where no human had ever been: 3,150 metres below the surface of the ocean, near the island of Ponza off the Italian coast between Rome and Naples.
Only seven Deep Sea Special watches were constructed for pressure-testing purposes between 1953 and 1960. The first of these prototypes achieved CHF1,890,000 in the November Rare Watches sale at Christie’s in Geneva, setting a world record for the model at auction.
The estimated age in years of the Luboshez gong, a lavishly decorated Shang-dynasty wine vessel in the form of a tiger and an owl. ‘It was one of the most extraordinary archaic bronzes I’ve ever handled,’ recalls Christie’s Chinese Works of Art specialist Margaret Gristina. ‘The quality of the craftsmanship is so intricate and sophisticated.’
One of a group of only six known gong vessels, it sold for $8,604,000 — more than double its low estimate — in a single-owner sale of works from the Daniel Shapiro Collection.
Harry Woolf’s collection of Fabergé masterpieces was one of the finest ever to come to market. The top price of the single-owner sale, which realised a total of £5,203,250 on 29 November at Christie’s in London, was an extremely rare jewelled gold and platinum mosaic brooch, which sold for £350,000 — nearly four times its high estimate.
Made in St Petersburg in around 1913, and scratched with inventory number 97142, it is the only piece of jewellery with this intricate mosaic design known to exist. The only other known object made using the same technique is the Imperial Mosaic Egg presented by Emperor Nicholas II to his wife Alexandra Feodorovna in 1914, now part of the Royal Collection.
The sum, in livres, paid by Marie Antoinette in 1776 for a dazzling pair of bracelets with approximately 140 to 150 carats of diamonds. Stowed away during the French Revolution, the jewels — which, miraculously, have remained intact rather than being broken up — spent the past two centuries hidden from view in a private royal collection. Typical of the work of Charles Auguste Boehmer, Marie Antoinette’s personal jeweller, they fetched a staggering CHF7,459,000 at Christie’s in Geneva — more than three times the low estimate.
The price, in Hong Kong dollars, achieved by a matte white Hermès Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile diamond retourné Kelly 28 (2021) with 18ct white gold and diamond hardware. Offered in the Hong Kong Handbags & Accessories sale in November, it became the most valuable handbag ever sold at auction.
The total achieved, in US dollars, by the collection of fine and decorative arts assembled by beauty tycoon Sydell Miller. Works by artists including Joan Miró, Jean Dubuffet and Joan Mitchell were offered during Christie’s May marquee week sales in New York, while design pieces and decorative arts from La Rêverie, Miller’s Palm Beach home, were offered in a single-owner sale on 10 June.
Leading the latter was François-Xavier Lalanne’s ‘Troupeau d’éléphants dans les arbres’ table, above, which sold for $6,630,000 — more than six times its low estimate. Other highlights included a pair of ormolu-mounted ebony meubles d’appui by Etienne Levasseur, which realised $1,062,000, and a pair of Louis XVI tables by Adam Weisweiler, which fetched $1,050,000.
The Hong Kong 20th and 21st Century Art auction series in November realised HK$2,007,615,000 (US$258,733,286), the highest ever auction total for the category at Christie’s Asia. Leading the series was Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild 747-1, selling for HK$140,400,000.
‘It’s been a thrill to see top prices realised and records smashed not only for Asian artists such as Kusama and Huang Yuxing, but also an increasing number of Western artists,’ said Cristian Albu, co-head of the 20th and 21st Century Art department, Christie’s Asia Pacific. ‘This speaks to the percipience and diverse tastes of collectors in Asia.’
The Cox Collection, one of the most significant private collections of Impressionist art ever to come to market, achieved $332,031,500 at Christie’s in New York.
The sale of 23 works, which hammered 160 per cent against low estimate and sold 100 per cent by lot, featured a Caillebotte and three phenomenal late works by Vincent van Gogh. The highest price was achieved by Van Gogh’s 1889 Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès, above, which sold to a bidder in the room for $71,350,000.
The billion-dollar sales week returned to Christie’s in November, when a combined total of $1,109,415,750 was realised, led by masterpieces from the Cox Collection (see above). In addition to 31 new auction records, the week saw 22 artists — from Caillebotte to Beeple — achieve eight-figure sums.
The 20th Century Evening Sale realised $419,866,500, hammering 113 per cent above low estimate; while the 21st Century Evening Sale totalled $219,278,750, selling 100 per cent by lot.
In addition to Van Gogh’s Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès (1889), other highlights included Paul Cézanne’s L'Estaque aux toits rouges (1883-1885), which sold for $55,320,000; Andy Warhol’s 1982 portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which achieved $40,091,500; and Basquiat’s The Guilt of Gold Teeth, also from 1982, depicting Baron Samedi, a spirit of Haitian Vodou, which sold for $40,000,000.