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Eight new auction records set during Sotheby's marathon virtual sale


Agence France-Presse

 /  Wed, July 1, 2020  /  05:30 pm
Eight new auction records set during Sotheby's marathon virtual sale

People pass by a Sotheby's auction house logo in the Russian History Museum in Moscow, 23 May 2007. (AFP/Maxim Marmur)

The unprecedented series of three auctions, conducted remotely by auctioneer Oliver Baker in London, generated an impressive total of $363.2 million on June 29.

Ninety-three percent of the lots on offer went under the hammer across the carefully choreographed auctions, namely the evening sale of Contemporary Art, the evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, as well as a single-owner sale of works assembled by the late influential collector Ginny Williams.

Stretching over four-and-a-half hours, the marathon session was led by Francis Bacon's "Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus" (1981), which went for just over its pre-sale high estimate of $80 million and fetched $84.6 million with fees.


Moments ago during our global live-streamed Contemporary Art Evening Auction, Francis Bacon’s large-format masterpiece ‘Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus’ soared to $84.6 million — the third-highest price for the artist’s work at auction. An online bidder participating from China competed with a determined client bidding by phone with Grégoire Billault of our New York Contemporary Art department in a dramatic 10-minute battle for this Bacon masterpiece. The work sold to the phone bidder. The painting is one of 28 large-format triptychs that Bacon created between 1962 and 1991, and only the 6th example ever to appear at auction. Inspired by Aeschylus’s trilogy of Greek tragedies dating to the 5th century B.C., the triptych stands as one of the most ambitious, enigmatic, and important works of Bacon’s œuvre. The sale continues now on our livestream on – watch live and check our Story for more highlights throughout the auction! #SothebysContemporary #FrancisBacon #ContemporaryArt

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While this pricey sale was not exactly surprising, eight new auction records were set over the course of the sales.

Among them are Helen Frankenthaler's "Royal Fireworks" (1975), which nearly quadrupled its pre-sale low estimate of $2 million and achieved $7.9 million during the Ginny Williams Collection Evening Sale.

The previous auction record of the late American Abstract Expressionist was set in May 2018, when "Blue Reach" fetched $3 million during Sotheby's Contemporary Art Day Auction.

The late Canadian artist Matthew Wong also blew past his former record price of $62,500 during Sotheby's Contemporary Art Auction, as "The Realm of Appearances" (2018) went under the hammer for $1.8 million after heated phone bidding via specialists in Hong Kong and New York.

While "The Realm of Appearances" realized more than 18 times its pre-sale high estimate of $80,000, Vija Celmins' "Night Sky #7" did not hit the auction block for $8 million, as expected by Sotheby's specialists.

The large-scale canvas, recently featured in the Latvian-American artist's retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, still surpassed her previous auction record of $4.2 million and sold for $6.6 million.

Female Surrealist artists Leonor Fini, Alice Rahon and Remedios Varo also broke their respective record prices during Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, during which seven works by women Surrealists realized $13.7 million out of a total of $62.8 million.

Varo's "Armonía (Autorretrato Sugerente)" (1956) brought in $6.2 million, while Fini's "Figures on a Terrace (Composition with Figures on a Terrace; La Terrasse)" (1938) and Rahon's "Los Cuatro hijos del arco iris" (1960) respectively fetched $980,000 and $512,000.

Late Chilean artist Mario Carreño timidly surpassed his previous auction record of $2.6 million with his 1943 masterwork "Cortadores de caña," which sold for $2.7 million.

Meanwhile, Cuban modernist artist Wifredo Lam realized $9.6 million with his 1943 "Omi Obini," which also marked the second-highest of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art auction after the $11.2 million sale of Pablo Picasso's "Tête de femme endormie (Head of a Sleeping Woman)."

Elsewhere during Sotheby's marathon session, Jean-Michel Basquiat defied expectations with "Untitled (Head)" (1982), which sold for $15.2 million and set a new world auction record for a work on paper by the American artist.


An explosion of vivid color and frenzied mark-making, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Untitled (Head)’ is a tour de force that stands as one of the most accomplished of the artist’s iconic ‘Heads’. The urgency and strength of the composition reflect the frenetic energy and creativity that characterized New York City in the 1980s, and the balance and fullness of the work are testament to his genius. ‘Untitled (Head)’ bears close resemblance to the seminal painting ‘Untitled’ from 1981 in the collection of The Broad in Los Angeles and, like that work, ranks in the top echelon of the artist's practice. Held in Basquiat’s collection alongside many of his greatest pieces until his untimely death in 1988, the present work took pride of place in the storied Robert Miller Gallery exhibition of the artist’s drawings in 1990 – the show that cemented the works on paper as a cornerstone of his oeuvre. This masterwork on paper will join our Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 29 June. Browse the full digital catalogue now on or through our link in bio! #SothebysContemporary #Basquiat

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The masterwork also marked the highest price ever paid at Sotheby's by an online bidder, surpassing the $7.9 million spent on Joan Mitchell's "Garden Party" (1962) earlier in the evening.

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