On Tuesday night in London, Sotheby’s held two consecutive evening sales at its Bond Street headquarters that brought in a collective £199 million ($252.9 million) across 73 lots.
The total across both the “Now” sale and a second auction devoted to modern art was up more than 30 percent from the equivalent sales held in June last year, exceeding a pre-sale low estimate of £160.7 million ($203 million).
May’s slow New York auctions seemed to show signs of a market correction in action. Energy around emerging artists had subsided, even as blue-chip lots continued to perform well, and the trend was expected to continue in London this month. Yet the Sotheby’s auctions on Tuesday seemed to suggest some positives for the market.
Records were set for six artists: Arthur Jafa and Michel Majerus in the “Now” sale, devoted largely to art of the past few decades, and Frank Auerbach, Gustav Klimt, Saloua Raouda Choucair, and Magdalene Odundo in the modern art auction.
Klimt’s Lady With a Fan (1917–18) sold for a final price of £85.3 million pounds with buyer’s fees ($108.4 million). Backed by a third-party guarantee, it was sold from an anonymous family that had held it privately since 1994.
The work hammered after a ten-minute-long bidding spar between three clients, going to Patti Wong, an art advisor who was bidding on behalf of a Hong Kong collector, as the New York Times reported. The result was the highest auction price ever achieved for the Austrian artist, and also the highest ever recorded for a public sale in Europe. Not since 2010, when Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man I sold for $104.3 million at Sotheby’s London location, has a work sold at public auction for an amount that high in the city.
Klimt’s previous record was $104.6 million, set in November of last year by a 1903 landscape scene, titled Birch Forest, at Christie’s in New York.
Another major lot that attracted attention was Night Interior, a 1968 canvas by the auction regular Lucian Freud. It sold for $12.2 million. Three works by British modernist sculptor Frank Auerbach outperformed, bringing in a total of £11.2 million ($14.2 million), above a high collective estimate of £9 million ($11.5 million).
A rare self-portrait by Leonor Fini, titled Autoportrait au turban rouge (1938–41), saw six bidders vie for it. This competition eventually brought its final sale price to £711,200 ($904,100). The low estimate was £400,000.
Earlier on in the night, the “Now” portion saw some unexpected feats for less commercial names. The top lot of was Mark Bradford’s Stand down soldier, an urban landscape of Los Angeles, which sold for £3.1 million ($3.9 million), against an estimate of £2.5 million. Monster (1988), a self-portrait by Arthur Jafa featuring the artist pointing a camera in mirror, was the first lot of the night. It went for £139,700 ($177,600). The result was more than three times the £40,000 estimate.
A lesser-known figure on the auction circuit who starred in the contemporary portion was the late Luxembourg-born artist Michel Majerus, who was the subject of a multitude of exhibitions across Germany, as well as a survey in Miami, last year. His 1999 canvas MoM Block Nr. 57, an image of a stark Black figure wearing a bronze crown alluding to Jean-Michael Basquiat’s paintings, was among the “Now” sale’s star lots. It attracted attention from five bidders during sale before going for a final price of £660,400 ($839,534), more than double the low £250,000 estimate.
Another by the closely followed artist, the 55-year-old Canadian Steven Shearer, followed a similar track. His portrait Vulgarian Applique (2016) also saw five bidders go after it. The action moved the final price to £203,200 ($258,318), double its low £80,000 estimate.