O ver seven auctions, Sotheby’s sold US$799,183,697 of fine art this week, with the top 10 lots from The New York Sales each surpassing $20 million at the block. The spring marquee sales, presented in partnership with Celine, were led by Gustav Klimt’s Insel im Attersee ($53.2 million), René Magritte’s L’Empire des lumières ($42.3 million) and Codex Sassoon ($38.1 million). Counting concurrent sales at Luxury Week in Geneva, the auction house’s total for the week reached $911.1 million.
The first two auctions on Tuesday night realized a combined $427 million – the third-highest single-evening total in Sotheby’s history – with over a quarter of the night’s value coming from 15 lots sold from The Mo Ostin Collection, assembled by the legendary music producer. As the week went on, numerous records were set, including an auction high for Louise Bourgeois, whose monumental Spider ($32.8 million) became the artist’s most valuable work at auction and one of the most valuable works by a woman artist ever sold. Indeed, work by women artists and artists of color contributed massively to the week’s strong performance, establishing new auction records and comprising a significant portion of the week’s sale value.
The sales were further bolstered by distinguished collections coming to market. In addition to the single-owner sale of The Mo Ostin Collection, significant works from The Fisch Davidson Collection, The Collection of Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, The Frances Wells Magee Collection and more found willing buyers.
Read on for more in-depth findings from the week.
The Mo Ostin Evening Auction15 lots from the music legend’s private collection sold, led by two benchmark-setting paintings by René Magritte.
The Modern Evening AuctionKlimt’s Insel im Attersee was the top lot of the week, selling for $53.2 million, over one-sixth the value of this auction. Records were set for Vilhelm Hammershøi and Isamu Noguchi at auction.
Codex SassoonThis millenia-old Hebrew Bible became the most valuable manuscript ever sold at auction when it achieved $38.1 million on Wednesday.
The Modern Day SaleThe Modern Day Sale realized $46.5 million across nearly 300 lots, led by Claude Monet’s Barques de pêche. Six records were set and four works surpassed $1 million throughout the sale.
The Now Evening AuctionThe Now Evening Auction realized $37.2 million across 23 lots, two-thirds of which surpassed their high estimates. Six new auction records were set.
The Contemporary Evening AuctionThe Contemporary Evening Auction was led by the auction debut of Louise Bourgeois’s Spider ($32.8 million), which set a record for the artist – and the third highest auction price achieved for a woman artist.
The Contemporary Day AuctionLed by Yayoi Kusama’s INFINITY-NETS (TWXOB) ($3 million), The Contemporary Day Auction achieved $83.1 million across more than 300 lots, topping its $80.9 million high estimate. Numerous artists records were set and 15 works surpassed $1 million throughout the sale.
Major Acquisitions by Museums and Collectors in Asia
Bidding Battle for Vilhelm Hammershøi’s “Interior. The Music Room, Strandgade 30”
Several of the most notable acquisitions from The New York Sales were made by major museums: Vilhelm Hammershøi’s Interior. The Music Room, Strandgade 30 nearly doubled its high estimate when it sold to an American institution for $9.1 million, an auction record for the preeminent painter of meditative interiors. And Codex Sassoon, the earliest most complete Hebrew Bible, became the most expensive historical manuscript ever sold at auction when it was purchased for $38.1 million by American Friends of ANU, who promptly donated it to ANU - Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Other significant works of art were sold to powerhouse collectors in Asia, signaling the continued strength of the art market there. In fact, collectors from the continent accounted for more than a third of The Modern Evening Auction’s total sale value, acquiring Klimt’s Insel im Attersee ($53.2 million) and works by Vincent van Gogh ($23.3 million), Paul Gauguin ($10.4 million), Claude Monet ($5.8 million), Henri Matisse ($4.7 million) Camille Pissarro ($2.8 million), Edvard Munch ($2.7 million) and Édouard Manet ($2.5 million). The continent also generated strong underbidding throughout the week, including for a portrait from Matisse’s Nice period ($3.9 million), a Roy Lichtenstein from The Mo Ostin Collection ($2.9 million) and the pensive Hammershøi painting.
An LA Music Legend’s Collection
All works but one sold from The Mo Ostin Collection, assembled by the famed American record-label steward whose ear for music was matched by his eye for art, led by a stunning pair of paintings by René Magritte. L’Empire des lumières led the sale at $42.3 million, becoming the second most valuable work by the artist ever purchased at auction. (It’s surpassed only by another, larger work from the same series, which sold for £59.4 million at Sotheby’s London last year.) Several minutes later, a 7-minute bidding battle saw the Belgian Surrealist’s Le domaine d’Arnheim reach $18.9 million and set an auction record for the artist’s “Arnheim” series and his “Shattered Glass” paintings.
Also from Ostin’s collection, Free Games for May by Cecily Brown, who’s currently enjoying a mid-career retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, sold for $6.7 million, while Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Moon View, formerly owned by The Broad Art Foundation in Los Angeles, topped its high estimate to sell for $10.8 million. All told, The Mo Ostin Collection Evening Auction achieved $123.7 million.
The Market for Modern Masters Stays Strong
Bidding Battle for Gustav Klimt’s “Insel im Attersee (Island in the Attersee)”
The Modern Evening Auction, a 48-lot sale, realized $303.1 million, led by Insel im Attersee (Island in the Attersee) from Klimt’s “Golden Phase.” The masterpiece by the most prominent member of the Vienna Secession sold for $53.2 million to a private collector in Japan after a 6-minute bidding battle – in the process becoming the week’s most valuable work of art. Four more works from the sale surpassed $20 million: Alberto Giacometti’s Femme Leoni ($28.5 million) – establishing an auction record for the series – Sir Peter Paul Rubens’s Portrait of a Man as Mars ($26.2 million), Vincent van Gogh’s Jardin devant le Mas Debray ($23.3 million) and Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée jouant avec un chat ($21.2 million).
The Picasso painting was one of six works by the artist that appeared in the auction, which together achieved a combined $52.4 million. With two additional Picasso works from The Mo Ostin Collection, the artist’s total across evening auctions came to $61.9 million.
Contemporary Works by Women Artists and Artists of Color Soar
Bidding Battle for Louise Bourgeois’s “Spider”
On Thursday night, The Now Evening Auction and The Contemporary Evening Auction realized a combined $204.7 million, bolstered by magnificent work by women artists and Black artists. In fact, within The Now Evening Auction – often considered a barometer for the most exciting artists on the market – work by Black artists realized $20.5 million, or more than 55 percent of the $37.2 million sale value.
The auction set six records: $3.1 million for Simone Leigh’s Las Meninas II, $2.5 million for Henry Taylor’s From Congo to the Capital, and black again, $2.4 million for Nicole Eisenman’s Night Studio (twice its high estimate), $787,400 for Justin Caguiat’s to the approach of beauty its body is fungible (more than triple its high estimate), $787,400 for Steven Shearer’s The Late Dioramist and Sons and $355,600 for Portia Zvavahera’s Vese Vakanddibata (They all gave me strength).
The Contemporary Evening Auction that followed set an additional three records – led by an exceptional example of Louise Bourgeois’s famed “Spider” sculptures. Exhibited at The São Paulo Museum of Modern Art for over 20 years, it’s one of only four monumentally sized “Spiders” ever to appear at auction. Its $32.8 million sale not only established an artist record, but also the highest price for a work by a woman sculptor and the third-highest price for a work by a woman artist at auction. Howardena Pindell’s Untitled established an auction record for the artist when it sold for $1.6 million, while more than two-thirds of work by women artists exceeded their high estimates in the sale.
Across both auctions on Thursday, work by women artists realized $50.4 million – almost a quarter of the night’s sale value.
A Record-Setting Judaic Manuscript Returns to Israel
On Wednesday, following a global tour, Codex Sassoon went to the block in New York. A gripping, 4-minute battle between two determined bidders saw the storied tome surpass the record for a historical manuscript at auction – set in 1994 with the sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester. With a strike of the gavel, the manuscript sold for $38.1 million to American Friends of ANU, who gifted it to the museum in Israel, thereby returning the codex to the region where it originated in the late 9th or early 10th century.
“I rejoice in knowing that it belongs to the Jewish People,” says Ambassador Alfred H. Moses, Chair of ANU’s International Board of Governors. “It was my mission, realizing the historic significance of Codex Sassoon, to see that it resides in a place with global access to all people. In my heart and mind that place was the land of Israel, the cradle of Judaism, where the Hebrew Bible was originated.”
The sale marks a fitting end for the millennium-old book, whose historical and religious significance is matched only by the Aleppo and Leningrad codices.
Distinguished Collections Drive the Market
One of the top lots of The Modern Evening Auction was Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée jouant avec un chat ($21.2 million), a work sold from The Collection of Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem for charities supporting the arts, music and medical research. An additional 14 works sold by the family brought the collection’s total to $26.6 million.
The Manetti Shrems’s collection was just one of several distinguished collections to excel at auction this week. Rubens’s Portrait of a Man as Mars ($26.2 million) came from the esteemed Fisch Davidson Collection, which achieved $49.6 million in a single-owner sale this January. Nine works from The Impressionist Spirit Collection realized a combined $33.8 million, led by Claude Monet’s Cap au martin ($11.5 million). And eight works from The Collection of Frances Wells Magee found buyers across four auctions for a total of $13.4 million.
Depth in the Day Sales
Both daytime auctions saw strong performance this week, with The Modern Day Auction realizing $46.5 million over more than 250 lots and The Contemporary Day Auction realizing $83.1 million across more than 300 lots. The former auction set 6 artist records and the latter set at least 20. A total of 19 works across both sales surpassed $1 million, led by Yayoi Kusama’s INFINITY-NETS (TWXOB) ($3 million).
NFT artworks from the GRAILS collection performed particularly well, with Tyler Hobbs’s Fidenza #725 selling for $1 million, more than 5 times its high estimate.