Principal auctioneer Tobias Meyer at the Contemporary Art Evening sale in London.

LONDON - Last night’s Evening auction of Contemporary Art got off to a cracking start. As Sotheby’s principal auctioneer Tobias Meyer read out the auctioneer’s announcement my colleague Claudia Dwek whispered in my ear that we had 14 phones registered for the first three lots, a group of exquisite sculptures by Alexander Calder that had spent the last 40 years in a Private Swedish Collection. The bidding was quick and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Hands flew up in the room and on the phones, bid amounts were shouted out way in excess of the usual increments. The star of the Swedish Collection was lot three, a little bug-like Calder standing mobile, which saw at least 10 bidders and eventually sold to Cheyenne Westphal’s phone bidder for £760,000, over five times the estimate.  

Alexander Calder's Untitled, sold £892,450.

That was the story of the night, which totaled over £74 million and demonstrated stronger demand than ever for classic, postwar masterpieces like our top lots by Bacon, Basquiat and Richter that led the sale. The energy of the saleroom was palpable especially for works that came totally fresh to the market, like the Bacon Study for a Portrait, 1976 and the gorgeous Burri Creto and early Roman Opalka, all of which had been off the market in private collections for over 40 years.

One of the great joys of my job is uniting collectors with great works of art; that pleasure is intensified when the beneficiary is a public institution. That was the case for the top lot of the evening, Francis Bacon’s incredible Three Studies for a Self-Portrait of 1980. It was competed for by three bidders and climbed gradually to a final paid-for price of £13.76 million, executed by my colleague Nadia Abbas on the telephone. On the other end of that phone was Juergen Hall, a private individual from Monchengladbach who announced after the sale that the work would go on long term loan to a major institution – more details to follow. The painting already has an impressive exhibition history and it is pleasing to know that it will be available to the public for years to come. This is the second occasion that Mr. Hall has made such a gesture. In the legendary Duerckheim Collection sale in 2011, Mr. Hall acquired an important Gerhard Richter painting, which he loaned to the Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany.

Francis Bacon's Three Studies for Self-Portrait sold for £13.8 million.

Alongside the Modern Masters, I was pleased with the results achieved for two younger artists that we offered for the first time in an Evening Sale, for which we achieved new record prices. Hurvin Anderson is to my mind one of the most interesting young painters in the UK today and the price we achieved for Untitled (Welcome Series) was more than double the previous record that was achieved at Sotheby’s in 2009; Adrian Ghenie’s Dr Mengele saw fierce competition from around the world with bidders participating from Europe, the US and Asia. I look forward to both artists’ upcoming exhibitions later this year at Thomas Dane and Pace respectively.

Today we continue with the Day Sale, which is already off to a flying start. This evening I look forward to a celebratory drink with the international team before everyone sets off again in different directions to plan the next sale.