$85 Million Bacon Ushers in a New Era of Evening Auctions

$85 Million Bacon Ushers in a New Era of Evening Auctions


S otheby’s marquee evening auctions realized $363.2 million on Monday night. The sales, led by a powerful Francis Bacon triptych, come as Sotheby’s debuted an innovative new format for the live auction events. Led by three private collections, The Ginny Williams Collection, The Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson and The Vanguard Spirit: Modern and Surrealist Masterworks from an Important Estate, the night saw spirited bidding with Sotheby’s specialists in New York, London and Hong Kong taking phone bids live on camera, and auctioneer Oliver Barker presiding over the live stream event in London.

Francis Bacon’s 1981 large-format masterwork Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus , one of the most ambitious, enigmatic and important works of Bacon’s oeuvre, sold for $84.6 million – the artist’s third-highest price ever at auction.

The Ginny Williams Collection

Less Krasner, Re-Echo
Lee Krasner, Re-Echo, 1957, sold for $9,034,300 to lead the auction.

T he Ginny Williams Collection Evening Sale launched tonight’s events, achieving a total of $65.5 million in a white glove showing – soaring past its high estimate of $51.7 million. The collection, amassed by the trailblazing Ginny Williams, features works by Abstract Expressionist and contemporary artists – including artworks by pioneering female modernists. A superlative and early example from Lee Krasner’s seminal Earth Green series, Re-Echo led the sale, reaching $9 million to become the second-highest price for the artist at auction. Three works by Joan Mitchell together brought $22.7 million, with Straw, 1976, realizing $8.8 million, exceeding its original estimate of $5–7 million, and Garden Party selling above its estimate of $4–6 million for $7.9 million. Helen Frankenthaler’s Royal Fireworks achieved $7.9 million nearly $5 million past its estimate of $2–3 million – earning a new world auction record for the artist, and coming after extended back and forth bidding. Three sculptures by Louise Bourgeois totalled $6.8 million. Eye Benches I led the pack, selling for $3.3 million, followed by Observer for $2.2 million and Untitled (With Growth) for $1.2 million. Bourgeois’s success at tonight’s auction is especially significant, as Williams was a close friend and patron of the artist. Williams held the world’s largest private collection of works by Bourgeois – which consisted of over 40 sculptures and works on paper, spanning more than four decades of the artist’s career. Sotheby’s sales of works from The Ginny Williams Collection continue throughout 2020, including in tomorrow’s Contemporary Art Day Auction as well as a dedicated sale of Photographs from the collection on 14 July.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

Roy Lichtenstein, White Brushstroke I, 1965, achieved $27,030,500.

T he Contemporary Art Evening Auction achieved a total of $234.9 million – and saw several auction records. Leading the night was Francis Bacon’s 1981 large-format masterwork Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, one of the most ambitious, enigmatic and important works of Bacon’s oeuvre. It came to Sotheby’s from the care of the Astrup Fearnley Museet in Oslo, Norway, selling for $84.6 million and marking the artist’s third-highest price ever at auction. It followed a ten-minute bidding war between an online bidder participating from China and a client bidding by phone. Other highlights were Roy Lichtenstein’s White Brushstroke I, executed in 1965 as part of the artist’s iconic Brushstroke series, which achieved $27 million and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s invigorating Untitled (Head), a work on paper executed in 1982, that brought $15.2 million – a record for a work on paper by the artist and Sotheby’s highest-ever price for a work sold to an online bidder. Other highlights include Matthew Wong’s hypnotic 2018 work The Realm of Appearances, which achieved $1,820,000 to set an auction record for the artist. Wong, a gifted, self-taught artist, passed away in October of 2019 at the age of 35. The evening’s auction was anchored by a spectacular group of abstract masterpieces from the Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson. All ten works sold for a total of $66.3 million, led by Clyfford Still’s masterwork of Abstract Expressionism, 1947-Y-No. 1, which realized $28.7 million.

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

Remedios Varo's Armonía (Autorretrato sugerente), 1956, sold for $6.2 million.

C apping off the night’s historic auction event was the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale which brought in a total $62.8 million. The sale was anchored by a phenomenal collection of Latin Surrealism, The Vanguard Spirit: Modern and Surrealist Masterworks from an Important Estate, which itself achieved $29.2 million, with additional works offered tomorrow in the Contemporary Art Day Auction. Led by Wifredo Lam’s masterful and monumental 1943 painting Omi Obini, which set a new world record for the artist when it sold for $9.6 million, the collection represents one of the most distinguished private assemblages of Surrealist and Modern Art from Latin America ever to appear at auction. Remedios Varo’s poetic and enigmatic Armonía (Autorretrato sugerente) also set a record for the artist, selling for $6.2 million after a prolonged bidding battle and far eclipsing its presale high estimate. Pablo Picasso’s Tête de femme endormie was the sale’s top lot, selling for $11.2 million. The 1934 canvas, which last appeared at auction in 1960, depicts the artist’s great muse Marie-Thérèse Walter. Auction records were also achieved for Latin artists Lenor Fini, Mario Carreño and Alice Rahon. Sales continue tomorrow with African Art from the Collection of Sidney and Bernice Clyman and the Contemporary Art Day Auction which begin at 9:30 AM EDT and 12 PM respectively.

A New Era for Marquee Auctions

D uring these unprecedented times, Sotheby’s worked quickly to revolutionize its marquee auctions, continuing to present world-class artworks in safe, engaging and new ways. In a dynamic, multi-camera event live streamed around the world, Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker conducted the three evening auctions from Sotheby's London, interacting via video with colleagues bidding in real time in New York, London and Hong Kong. This historic auction capped off a season of digital innovation, as Sotheby’s introduced a suite of new online features that delivered the full auction experience. Prior to the sales, clients could browse a new digital catalogue – rich with the same expertly composed essays – plus view enhanced imagery, video for every lot and more multimedia features to facilitate a deeper exploration of the artworks. Likewise, virtual exhibition tours through our online virtual gallery were made possible with cutting-edge technology by Exhibita, facilitating the same carefully curated exhibition experience complete with educational wall texts, lot information, and links to the digital catalogue, for the next best thing to visiting the exhibition in person. Read more about the innovations that made this sale possible here.

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