The Frieze Week auctions at Christie’s in London achieved their second highest ever total, achieving more than £148 million across four sales. Sixteen artist auction records were set in the series, and five records by medium.
One of the highlights of Frieze Week, the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction was led by Francis Bacon’s Figure in Movement, executed in 1972. Held for 41 years in the collection of Magnus Konow, the picture achieved £19,921,250 (including buyer’s premium) in a sale that totalled £84,610,000 / $109,485,340 and was 85 per cent sold by lot.
Watch a re-run of the auction in full
Painted in the immediate aftermath of George Dyer’s death, Figure in Movement transforms the distinctive features of Bacon’s great muse and lover into a commentary on the fleeting nature of life. As the figure’s writhing form threatens to dissolve, he clasps a newspaper to his face, as if desperately trying to remain in the present.
The second highest price of the sale came with Jean Dubuffet’s Madame au Jardin (Lady in the Garden), which had been held in the same collection since the 1980s, and featured in the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden’s major Dubuffet retrospective in 1993. This romantic, large-scale work from the artist’s important series of Assemblages sold for £4,508,750.
Offered from the collection of the influential German gallerist Paul Maenz, Keith Haring’s Untitled, created in 1984, the same year that Maenz staged the artist’s first solo exhibition in Germany, realised £3,946,250.
Moments later, Albert Oehlen’s Stier mit loch (Bull with hole), which measures almost four metres in length, soared past its high estimate to achieve £3,608,750, a new world auction record for the artist.
Works by Oehlen proved to be popular on the night, with Untitled (1989) selling for £3,128,750, more than three times its low estimate, and Bigote (Moustache), painted in 2003, passing its high estimate to achieve £992,750.
Other highlights in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction included a collection of rare, early works by Francis Bacon. These six pieces, executed between 1929 and 1930, are from a period that saw the young artist steer a course from design to painting. On loan to the Tate, London, since 2009, the group totalled £3,921,250, with Gouache setting a new world record for a work on paper by the artist (£488,750).
Lucian Freud’s first drawings of Bacon, dating from 1951 and formerly owned by Late Hon. Garech Domnagh Browne, sold for £584,750 and £488,750 respectively.
The Thinking Italian evening sale, which featured the very best in 20th- and 21st-century Italian art, totalled £39,582,073 / $51,219,202, and was led by Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio by Lucio Fontana, which sold for £16,282,823. The work is one of 38 ovoid-shaped paintings in a series executed over 18 months from the beginning of 1963.
A world auction record was set with the very first lot of the sale when Maria Lai’s Lenzuolo (Bed Sheet) sold for £150,000, more than five times the previous best for the artist. Another artist auction record quickly followed when Croix marine by Alberto Savinio achieved £692,750. Leonchillo’s Grande mutilazione (Large Mutilation) realised £728,750, almost three times the previous world auction record for the artist.
There were strong results for other works by Lucio Fontana, as well as for works by Piero Manzoni and Georgio Morandi, whose Natura morta sold for £1,328,750, easily eclipsing its low estimate of £800,000.
Frieze Week at Christie’s opened with a new ceramics sale, Un/Breakable, which realised a total of £3,107,625 / $4,039,912, selling 92 per cent by lot and 94 per cent by value. Registered bidders from 23 countries competed for ceramics by artists spanning a period of 140 years. The auction was led by Pablo Picasso’s Grand vase aux femmes voilées (A.R. 116), which sold for £404,750 / $526,175.
The series of sales concluded with the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction, which realised £20,844,000 / $27,180,575, and was 86 per cent sold by lot and 87 per cent by value. The top lot of the sale was Ernst Wilhelm Nay’s Vom Aufsteigenden Blau (From the Rising Blue), which achieved £848,750. New world auction records were set for works by Jonas Burget, Mathew Cerletty, Sarah Crowner, Shara Hughes, Markus Lüpertz, Aldo Mondino and Mary Weatherford.