This past week, as Frieze London art fair at Regents Park was underway, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips held mid-season evening sales of modern and contemporary art. Together, the auctions brought in a combined $210.5 million with premium.

The three sales hammered just above the combined expected low estimate of £136.1 million ($154 million), marking a solid performance despite looming economic challenges.

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An air of reassurance in the middle market circulated in Christie’s saleroom on Thursday afternoon, when sales of 20th and 21st century art saw 47 lots sold to buyers after three lots were withdrawn. The sale achieved a total of £72.5 million ($82.2 million), including buyer’s premium, outpacing its the high estimate of £55.8 million.

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According to the auction house’s post-sale statement, around 60 percent of bidding came from Europe, Middle East, and Africa, while another 23 percent came from bidders based in the Asia Pacific region. The sale’s afternoon start time was meant to accommodate Hong Kong bidders in the evening and U.S. collectors in the early morning hours.

Painting of sunset over shoreline
David Hockney, Early Morning Sainte Maxime, 1968-9.
Courtesy Christie’s

Headlining the Christie’s sale was David Hockney’s serene seascape titled Early Morning Saint-Maxime (1968-69). Drawing multiple bidders, the pink and blue-hued sunset scene hammered at £18 million (£20.8 million with fees), well surpassing its £10 million ($11.4 million) high estimate. The work, which was last seen at auction in 1988 when it sold at Christie’s for $352,000, went to a bidder on the phone with Christie’s Hong Kong-based specialist, Cristian Albu.

A new work by Tracey Emin that the artist consigned to benefit her newly established art school in Margate was among the sale’s highlights. The painting, titled Like a Cloud of Blood (2022), went for £2.3 million ($2.57 million), falling just below her current auction record and surpassing the low estimate of £500,000. The sale prompted a round of applause from the room’s audience.

Scott Kahn’s 1992 painting Croquet, a quiet scene depicting a waterside estate next to a grassy croquet court, attracted 12 phone bidders. The painting sold for more than six times its low estimate, hammering at £630,000. ($715,000). The obscure 76-year-old American artist has been the subject of a comeback following a recent solo showcase at Almine Rech. Despite the hype among the sale’s bidders, the price failed to surpass the artist’s auction record of $1.4 million set during a Christie’s Hong Kong sale in May 2022.

Making up the second portion of the afternoon was a sale dedicated to works from the collection of Robert Devereux. Of the 73 works that hit the auction block, eight new artist records were set including hybrids, aliens and ghosts (2013), an ink, enamel and dye transfer work on paper invoking the extraterrestial, by ruby onyinyechi amanze, which sold for £17,000 (£21,420 with fees), against an estimate of £5,000 ($5,700).

Exiting MoMA, Francis Bacon Tops Sotheby’s Sale

At Sotheby’s the following day, two back-to-back London evening sales devoted to contemporary art generated a combined £96.1 million ($107.4 million). After withdrawn lots, the sale surpassed its adjusted low presale estimate of £80.8 million ($89 million) and achieved the highest total for a Frieze week evening sale since 2015.

Leading the sale was a major Francis Bacon triptych painting Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) that came from the collection of the late New York media mogul William Paley amd had been on long-term loan to the Museum of Modern Art for three decades since Paley’s death. Paley’s foundation sold the work to benefit the museum and other charitable causes it has historically funded. The work hammered on a bid of $23 million, going to a client on the phone with New York-based chairman of contemporary art Gregoire Billault.

Three paintings of heads
Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1963.
Courtesy Sotheby’s

Among the other top sellers of the night coming to the auction block with institutional appeal was Gerhard Richter’s 192 Farben (1966), one of his early ‘color chart’ abstract paintings that has been on long term loan to the Hamburger Kunsthalle from 1997 to 2022. Backed by a third party financial guarantee, the work went for a final price of £18.3 million ($20.5 million) after attracting competition from three bidders. It beat out its £13 million million estimate by a solid margin.

Following the first portion of night was the “Now” sale, a leg that is dedicated to offering of works by sought-after emerging talent. The fast rising painter Flora Yukhnovich’s canvas Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner sold for £1.6 million ($1.8 million) against a high estimate of £700,000 ($784,000).

A record in the main sale was set for Frank Auerbach, whose portrait of a woman, Head of J.Y.M. (1984-85), sold for £5.64 million ($6.3 million), surpassing the artist’s previous record of £4 million ($5 million) set in June at Sotheby’s. Austrain painter Kiki Kogelnik also saw a new price milestone, when her 1964 abstract and figurative painting Siempre Por Tio sold for £207,900 ($230,873) to a bidder in the room. The artist is the subject of a forthcoming retrospective opening in Vienna next year.

Other records were set for Julien Nguyen, Charlene von Heyl, and Caroline Walker.

Caroline Walker, Night Scenes (2017)

Records for Emerging Names Fall at Phillips

Phillips achieved £18.7 million ($20.9 million) during its Frieze week 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale in London on Friday, a result squarely within the presale expectations of £14.8 million to £21 million ($16.5 million to $23.5 million) and with a 94 percent sell-through rate.

Record were set forMichaela Yearwood-Dan, Robert Nava, Caroline Walker, and Doron Langberg as the house continued to tout its reputation for bringing new talent to public sales.

The top lot of the evening was Alberto Burri’s Sacco e Rosso (1956), which sold for £3 million ($3.4 million). Coming in as the second highest seller was Banksy’s Sorry The Lifestyle You Ordered Is Currently Out Of Stock (2012), which made £1.8 million ($2 million).

Records were set for artists such as British painter Michaela Yearwood-Dan. Her abstract canvas Coping Mechanisms (2021) sold for £239,400 ($267,400) to a buyer based in Japan. The result was more than five times her previous record set at Phillips in London this June and eight times the £30,000 ($33,500).

A 2017 outdoor noir scene of a residential home by Scottish-born painter Caroline Walker, who is known primarily for her paintings of women in private spaces, sparked a bidding war during Phillips sale. Night Scenes sold for £516,600 ($577,000) five times its low estimate. The result was quickly outpaced at Sotheby’s in the following hours when another Palm Springs-inspired canvas by Walker from 2015 titled Indoor Outdoor sold for £529,200 ($587,677), surpassing the £60,000 ($68,000) low estimate.

A figurative painting depicting two men in a domestic scene by Israeli-born artist Doron Langberg titled Nir and Zach (2018) set a new artist record when it sold for £378,000 ($422,200). The result was more than three times the previous record of £163,800 ($186,000) set earlier this year.