S ince March, there has emerged a new, vital confidence in the power and potential of the art market. At Sotheby’s, we’ve worked quickly to move our calendar of live auctions online, and offer the best tools for our buyers and consignors to participate in online bidding. In turn, we've welcomed countless new bidders to our virtual auction spaces, and are engaging with established clients in new ways. What’s more, many artworks and luxury items offered in recent weeks have sold well above the high estimate – in some cases, achieving prices many-multiples higher than anticipated. Recently, Sotheby's London's Contemporary Curated sale totaled a record £5.1 million / $6.4 million, with George Condo's quasi-human portrait achieving £1.1 million / $1.28 million, the highest price realized for a painting in an online sale at Sotheby's. Sotheby's New York has seen gains, as well: on 28 April, a 'Tutti Frutti' bracelet from Cartier sold for an astonishing $1.34 million, smashing the pre-sale high estimate of $800,000.
And while the promising results come in part from sales of established artists in long-popular categories, emerging markets – including 20th Century Middle Eastern Art and African Contemporary Art – are setting auction records.
We're also proud to see our online auctions work for good. On 22 April, RM Sotheby’s Online Only: A Porsche with Purpose auction, hosted on behalf of Porsche Cars North America, Inc. (PCNA), sold a coveted Porsche 911 (991) for $550,000 (hammer price of $500,000). PCNA matched the winning bid to raise the total proceeds to $1 million, to be donated to United Way Worldwide to directly aid its work for COVID-19 relief in America.
Here, we take a look at some of the top lots sold at Sotheby’s since the start of the global crisis; read on to learn the story behind each artwork and exquisite luxury item, and see upcoming online auctions that can’t be missed.
Gem-Set, Diamond and Enamel ‘Tutti Frutti’ Bracelet, Cartier, 1930
Pre-Sale Estimate $600,000 – 800,000 | Sold for $1,340,000
Celebrated as the “holy grail” of jewelry, Cartier’s ‘Tutti Frutti’ creations are masterpieces of East meets West. Rubies, emeralds and sapphires carved in the Mughal-style are captured within expertly-wrought platinum, highlighted by diamonds, onyx and enamel. The present lot is distinguished by the vibrancy of its gemstones-with rubies predominating-and by the lines of black enamel, placed intermittently along the trim of various elements. The enamelwork is applied to just one side-a particularly clever flourish-echoing the organic asymmetry of the foliate elements.
Offered in a single-lot, devoted sale from Sotheby's New York, which closed on 28 April, this 'Tutti Frutti' bracelet achieved $1,340,000, exceeding its pre-sale high estimate by more than a half million dollars.
George Condo, Antipodal Reunion, 2005
Pre-Sale Estimate £650,000 – 800,000 | Sold for £1,035,000
Executed in the artist's mature, iconic figurative style, Antipodal Reunion exhibits the dramatic intensity for which George Condo is best-known. The artwork is a definitive example of Condo's stylistic construct of artificial realism, through which he has expanded the traditional realm of figurative painting to portray the often-humorous idiosyncrasies of contemporary life. This work is a brilliant example of the artist’s rebuttal of the classical tradition, presenting quasi-human figures that fuse elements of European Old Master paintings to popular American culture.
Offered at Sotheby's London Contemporary Curated auction, which closed on 21 April, Antipodal Reunion achieved £1,035,000, surpassing its pre-auction high estimate by more than £200,000.
Henriette Browne, A Visit: A Harem Interior
Pre-Sale Estimate £50,000 – 70,000 | Sold for £795,000
A Visit: A Harem Interior is rare and important on two counts: first, because it is by a female artist, one of the few women Orientalist painters active in the 19th-century; and second – by virtue of being painted by a woman – for providing a true insight into, and understanding of, the working of the harem, a sophisticated social space inaccessible to male eyes, and therefore so often the subject of hackneyed, voyeuristic, depictions. Devoid of any sexual connotation and set in a minimalist interior, Browne's painting depicts the visit of one harem to another, in a ritual of politeness.
Offered in The Orientalist Sale at Sotheby's London, which closed on 7 April, the artwork achieved £795,000 – more than ten times higher than the pre-sale high estimate.
Irma Stern, Grape Packer, 1959
Pre-Sale Estimate £350,000 – 550,000 | Sold for £435,000
Grape Packer is an important example of Irma Stern’s mature works from the 1950s and early 60s, highlighting the artist's increasing focus on laborers as subjects – orange pickers in Spain, fishermen in urban Cape Town and here, the grape pickers and packers in the Cape Winelands. Figure with bunch of grapes, a gouache in the collection of the Irma Stern Trust (accession no.1068), may well be an early preparatory study for Grape Packer – but the composition of the present work is far more interesting, displaying an intently-focused toddler and its graceful mother, intent on her task.
Offered in Sotheby's London Modern and Contemporary African Art Online auction, which closed on 31 March, the artwork achieved £435,000.
László Moholy-Nagy, ‘Umschlag Für Die Zeitschrift “Broom”’ (Photogram ‘Cover for the Magazine “Broom”’), 1922
Pre-Sale Estimate $400,000 – 600,000 | Sold for $524,000
Conceived of by László Moholy-Nagy as a possible cover design for the March 1923 issue of Broom: An International Magazine of the Arts (vol. 4, no. 4), this is a brilliant example of a photogram, the cameraless photography process by which an object was placed directly on photographic paper and exposed to light. As Emily Bierman, Head of Department for Sotheby's Photography notes: "By virtue of how they are created, photograms are unique. It is extremely rare to find such an important early Moholy-Nagy photogram still in private hands and this work is all the more special, having remained with the artist’s descendants for many years."
Offered at Sotheby's New York Photographs auction, which closed on 3 April, the artwork achieved $524,000.
Mohamed Melehi, The Blacks, 1963
Pre-Sale Estimate £55,000 - 65,000 | Sold for £399,000
The Blacks is an impressive work that pulsates with the rhythms of New York, the city that inspired Mohamed Melehi's creative output. The artwork's almost poignant significance lies in its concrete-like linearity, tied only to the short time Melehi spent in New York; his canvases were soon to be washed with the undulating waves that Morocco inspired.
Offered at Sotheby's London 20th Century Art / Middle East auction, which closed on 31 March, the artwork achieved £399,000 – more than six times greater than the work's pre-sale high estimate.
Patek Philippe | Nautilus, Reference 5711, a Brand New Platinum Wristwatch with Date, Blue Jeans Dial and Bracelet, circa 2014
Pre-Sale Estimate 3,000,000 - 5,000,000 HKD | Sold for 3,750,000 HKD
Being one of the most desired luxury sport watches on the market today, the Nautilus collection from Patek Philippe is not only an iconic model but also have influenced the future of all horology.
Offered at Sotheby's Hong Kong Watches Weekly | Patek Philippe auction, this platinum watch achieved 3,750,000 HKD.
Banksy, Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (Dark Pink), 2004
Pre-Sale Estimate £300,000 - 500,000 | Sold for £375,000
Offered at Sotheby's Banksy | Online auction, the artwork achieved £375,000.
Mahmoud Sabri, A Family of Farmers, early 1960s
Pre-Sale Estimate £100,000 - 120,000 | Sold for £300,000
Like many artists of his generation, Mahmoud Sabri came of age during far-reaching social and economic changes in Iraq that were manifested in the growing disparities between tradition and modernity, local and global influences. Interest in different facets of Sabri's life has significantly increased in recent decades. His ideas were certainly debated and discussed before that but were too unconventional for the artistic circle in Iraq and were never applied artistically. In some respects his artistic practice and ideology ostracized him from Iraq's artistic circle, often leaving him sadly overlooked – though no longer, perhaps.
Offered at Sotheby's London 20th Century Art / Middle East auction, which closed on 31 March, the artwork achieved £300,000, more than double the pre-sale high estimate.
John Singer Sargent, A Landscape View Near Nice, circa 1883
Pre-Sale Estimate $200,000 - 300,000 | Sold for $350,000
The present work, dated circa 1883, was likely executed during of the artist's many visits to see his parents who resided in Nice. While Sargent is most famous for his portraits of society figures, his favorite subject was actually the landscape.
Offered at Sotheby's New York American Art Online auction, which closed on 5 March. The artwork achieved $350,000, $50,000 above the pre-sale high estimate.
Italo-Flemish School, 17th Century, A Portrait of a Gentleman Standing beside a Framed Portrait of a Lady, with His Right Hand on His Hip and a Letter and Gloves Resting on a Table
Pre-Sale Estimate £8,000 - 12,000 | Sold for £275,000
This fascinating double portrait contains both Flemish and Italian elements, and is simultaneously reminiscent of paintings by Frans Pourbus and of North Italian portraiture. The type of frame depicted, called a cassetta, originated in Tuscany in the 15th century but later became very popular throughout Northern Europe.
Offered in Sotheby's London The Rafael Valls Sale, the artwork achieved £275,000, more than twenty times higher than the pre-sale high estimate.
2019 Porsche 911 Speedster 'Heritage Design'
Pre-Sale Estimate $311,940 (MSRP) | Sold for $550,000
This 2019 Porsche 911 Speedster is the final example of the 991 generation ever to enter and pass down the serial production line at the Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen factory. Its VIN is therefore the final one assigned and beyond this distinction, this 911 Speedster is one of a limited run of just 1,948 ever built.
The car sold for a hammer price of $500,000 ($550,000 including buyer’s premium). PCNA matched the winning bid to raise the total proceeds to $1 million, with the money to be donated to United Way Worldwide to directly aid its work for COVID-19 relief in America. RM Sotheby’s will also donate a significant portion of the buyer’s premium to the United Way COVID-19 Fund.