Sotheby’s and Christie’s Break Auction Records

Last month, Sotheby’s and Christie’s held their sales of Impressionist & Modern Art and Contemporary Art in New York. The sales occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the city only days before the Impressionist & Modern Art sales and led Sotheby’s to postpone its Evening Sale by several days. Nevertheless, the houses took in over $1.4 billion in combined sales—close to $1 billion of it raised in the two evening sales of Contemporary Art alone—and set numerous new auction records across categories.

Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale opened the series on November 7th, achieving $204.8 million in sales. Of the 69 lots on offer, 48 found buyers, leaving 31% of the works unsold. The top lot of the sale was Claude Monet’s Nymphéas, from 1905, which sold for $43.8 million. One of the very few of the water lily series still in private hands, the canvas was contested by numerous parties before falling to an anonymous telephone bidder. Christie’s also set a new auction record for Wassily Kandinsky, selling Study for Improvisation 8, from 1909, for just over $23 million.

Sotheby’s sale on November 8th achieved $163 million in total sales, and left 22 works unsold. The top lot of the evening was Pablo Picasso’s 1932 image of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, Nature Morte aux Tulipes, which sold for $41.5 million against a pre-sale estimate of $35 to $50 million. Another strong price was paid for Claude Monet’s Champ de blé, which achieved $12.1 million, well above its pre-sale estimate of $5 to $7 million.

The sales of Contemporary Art took place on November 13th at Sotheby’s and the 14th at Christie’s. Sotheby’s sale achieved $375.1 million, the house’s highest ever total in any auction category. The sale was 84% sold, with 58 of the 69 works on offer finding buyers. The sale was led by Mark Rothko’s seminal 1954 work, No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue), which sold for $75.1 million—the highest price paid for any work at either house this November. Sotheby’s achieved other strong prices, including a new auction record of $40.4 million for Number 4, 1951, a drip painting by Jackson Pollock; $29.8 million for Pope by Francis Bacon; and $16.3 million for Suicide, a new auction record for a work on paper by Andy Warhol.

The following evening, Christie’s sold over $412 million in Contemporary Art and realized a sell-through rate of 92%. Following the sale, Christie’s head of Contemporary Art, Brett Gorvy said, “This evening’s sale set a new record total for any Post-War and Contemporary Art sale. Over the past six years, Christie’s has led this market first over the $200 million, then over the $300 million, and now over the $400 million barrier.” The top lot of the sale was Andy Warhol’s Statue of Liberty, which sold for $43.76 million. Another record was set for an untitled work by Franz Kline, an abstract composition of bold black brushstrokes, which sold for $40.4 million. And Jeff Koons’ Tulips achieved $33.7 million, a new record for that artist at auction.