K icking off the evening’s proceedings, the Now auction was lead by Cecily Brown’s The Nymphs Have Departed which hammered down for £3.4 million, continuing the stellar run of results for the artist at Sotheby’s. The sale focussed on new work by names at the cutting edge of contemporary art, giving market-savvy collectors the opportunity to secure works by the most exciting practitioners working today, such as Ewa Juszkiewicz, Jonas Wood and Kudzanai-Violet Hwami.
In a strong display of market buzz, the aptly named Sweet Spot by rising star Flora Yukhnovich, achieved £939,800, double its estimate. Amid strong interest from Asian collectors, a number of artist records were set in the auction, including Julien Nguyen’s Study for the Temptation of Christ, which found a buyer at £406,000 – more than six times the pre-sale estimate – in a sale that goes from strength to strength.
Following the Now auction, The Modern and Contemporary Evening Auction opened to a large crowd, the saleroom alight with energy as collectors gathered to bid on museum-quality works, with many appearing at auction for the first time in decades.
The star lot of the evening was Wassily Kandinsky’s Murnau mit Kirche II which, after a flurry of bids, soared to £37.2 million, a new auction record for the artist. The painting was created in 1910 as Kandinsky began to shift from the figurative towards abstraction, forging a new experimental path in his already distinguished career.
Watch as Kandinsky’s Murnau mit Kirche II sells for £37.2 million, setting a new record
Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau mit Kirche II (Murnau with Church II)
This canvas was recently returned to the heirs of original owners, Siegbert and Johanna Margarete Stern, who were seasoned collectors and respected members of the Berlin cultural circle in the 1930s, counting Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein as peers. The outbreak of war and Nazi occupation meant they were parted from many of their beloved paintings when in exile from Germany.
This work is one of two recently restituted paintings offered in the sale; the other was Edvard Munch’s enigmatic Dance on the Beach, which sold for £16.9 million. The artist himself described the work as having “the same effect as a symphony. It can rise in scale towards the light, and it can sink down into the depths; it can rise and fall in strength.” Munch’s ability to convey the many facets of human emotion on canvas, are here matched by the the storied journey of this work, from the time of its creation, to the present day.
As well as outstanding works by titans of the impressionist and modern era, contemporary works by giants such as Gerhard Richter and Lucien Freud. Richter’s Absktraktes Bild is one of only eight such works on this dramatic scale still in private hands, with the majority housed in prestigious collections such as Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This monumental work soared to £24 million.
Alongside this explosion of colourful energy and dynamism, a deeply thoughtful and intimate portrait of Freud’s daughter Ib Reading sold for £17 million. Appearing in its auction debut, the work demonstrates Freud’s mastery of the single-figure portrait, and evokes classical depictions of women reading throughout art history.
Elsewhere in the sale, Picasso’s Fillette au bateau, Maya, also a portrait of the artist’s daughter, achieved £18 million. This vivid and playful work was painted in 1938, shortly after Picasso completed Guernica, and captures the happiness Maya brought into Picasso's life at this challenging period of his life.
Other notable results of the evening were Barbara Kruger’s boldly political interplay of text and image, Untitled (Out of your mind) and Untitled (In your face), two works, which, fresh to the market, sold for £889,000, and Robert Delaunay’s masterwork of geometric abstraction, Rythme circulaire, once in the collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim, which rose to £7.1 million – a new record for the artist. The London evening sales reached a combined total of £172.6 million/$208.2 million.
The following day, the Modern and Contemporary Day Auction achieved £23.8 million, bringing the total for The London Sales to £196.4 million.