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​Mixed results from London…

[10 Oct 2017]

Christie’s managed to sell 83% of the works in its October 6 sale in London, but not the season’s most anticipated canvas, Francis Bacon’s second version of Study of Red Pope.

Carefully scheduled to benefit from the excitement of London’s Frieze week, Christie’s worked hard to make a success of its sale of Post-War & Contemporary Art on October 6, notably by including works by 20th century icons Francis BACON and Jean-Michel BASQUIAT, two of the highest priced artists on the planet (both having generated results above the $100 million threshold at public sales). However, although the sale generated a respectable $130 million, the final total would have been a $100 million more if the Bacon work had sold.

The sale’s star lot, Study of Red Pope, is a rare Bacon painting that unites on a single canvas the British painter’s two favourite subjects (his “two biggest obsessions” according to Christie’s), namely his lover George Dyer and Pope Innocent X. Out of the public eye for 45 years, the painting was described and analysed in an independent catalogue containing no less than 156 pages… a marketing effort worthy of a piece of art history expected to fetch between 80 and 100 million dollars. Unfortunately the bidding ceased before it reached that range, with the last bid at $75.8 million (£58m).

The other star lot – Basquiat’s Red Skull – was more successful, but in a substantially lower price range. Estimated between £12 and 18 million, it fetched £16.5 million ($21.5 million), whereas Christie’s failed to sell the work eight years earlier at one tenth of that price (in June 2009 Red Skull was bought in against a low estimate of $2.5 million). Back then, the canvas was clearly a bargain, but 2009 was a dark year for the high-end art market caught up in the turmoil of the post-Lehman Brothers financial crisis. Last week, Red Skull generated the best result from the different sales in London, with Sotheby’s best result being $8.47 million for a large Untitled canvas by Cy TWOMBLY, painted in Rome in 1962.

Although serious, the Bacon failure did not completely overshadow a number of excellent results. These included new records at Christie’s for Grayson Perry, Amy Sillman, Tony Bevan, David Salle and, above all, for Antony GORMLEY whose sculpture a Case for an Angel I (1989) fetched just under $7 million (£5.3 million). An emblematic (and museum-worthy) work, a Case for an Angel I is a smaller version of England’s largest sculpture (Angel of the North, 200 tons, 20 metres tall and 54 metres wide (created in 1994-1998) at Gateshead) which has become one of the country’s strongest symbols and a rallying point. It also earned Gormley acceptance into the Order of the British Empire for services to sculpture. The 9-metre wingspan version offered at Christie’s last week (A Case for an Angel I) was acquired by the young Japanese collector, Yusaku Maezawa, who paid $110.5 million for Basquiat’s Untitled (1982) on 18 May 2017 in New York. After his winning bid, Maezawa immediately posted on Instagram A Case for an Angel 1 is coming to our museum, in reference to his Chiba museum.

Earlier in the day, Christie’s generated $42 million from a sale dedicated to Italian Art, with Lucio FONTANA, Alberto BURRI and Michelangelo PISTOLETTO each eliciting million-plus results. The previous day, Sotheby’s posted $66.5 million from its Contemporary Art sale and $24.3 million from its Italian Art sale, substantially lower totals than its rival. In sum, despite a couple of embarrassing failures (the Bacon at Christie’s and a major Basquiat [1982] at Sotheby’s), the two companies generated a combined total of $263.8 million from their Post-war & Contemporary Art and their Italian Art sales, a reassuring result that took only a couple of hours to hammer. Over the next two weeks, London is hosting a series of Photography sales, and then the market moves to Paris, where the two auction majors will surf the FIAC wave with sales dedicated to Avant-Garde, Impressionist & Modern Art between 19 and 23 October 2017.

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