NEW YORK – Bidders from around the world gathered at Sotheby’s New York on the evening of 10 November for the first of three sessions of Property from the Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, one of the most illustrious collections of the 20th century. Soaring more than $38 million above the high estimate to total $158.7 million, tonight’s sale of Masterworks gave collectors the chance to own a piece of history. Bidding was electric throughout the room and via overflowing phone banks, as collectors from 32 countries spanning 4 continents battled for such treasures as Diego Giacometti’s furniture, rare drawings by Georges Seurat and some of the most glorious examples of paintings by Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn.
Auctioneer Oliver Barker, dressed in black tie, was flanked by the two resplendent Rothkos on the wall behind him, which together achieved nearly $76.5 million. Rothko’s Untitled from 1970, the artist’s penultimate painting, led the sale, achieving $39.9 million, while Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) from 1955 surpassed its high estimate of $30 million to realize $36.6 million. Both works had remained in the Mellon collection for more than 40 years.
Other highlights included eight paintings and works on paper by Richard Diebenkorn, which together totaled $32.2 million, led by Ocean Park #89, which sold for $9.7 million. Works on paper across styles and genres performed well throughout the night, led by Georges Seurat’s Femme tenant un bouquet from circa 1882, which nearly doubled its pre-sale high estimate, earning $5.3 million. The work had been a Christmas gift from Paul Mellon to his wife1956. Anticipation is high for the remaining sessions in Property from the Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon. Mrs. Mellon’s collection of Jewels & Objects of Vertu will be auctioned on 20–21 November, and a three-day sale entitled Interiors will be held from 21–23 November.