Da Vinci sale propels auction houses to $2bn weekHeat Profit
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Sales at the three big auction houses this week vaulted above $2bn on the back of the record-shattering $450.3m paid for the last Leonardo da Vinci in private hands, making it one of the most lucrative recent New York sales seasons.
Auctions at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips produced multimillion-dollar sales for artists including Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Roy Lichtenstein, Fernand Léger and Cy Twombly, helping propel their total results, including fees, to $2.18bn in the past week.
Despite the high prices paid for trophy lots, some top works failed to hit their minimum price and the total results were within the range predicted before the shows. The bidding underlined the two-stage nature of the Market as well as the depth of interest from bidders in Asia.
“When someone sells the most expensive painting ever, it’s hard to say the Market is anything other than pretty doggone good,” said Tad Smith, Sotheby’s chief executive, after the house’s postwar and contemporary art auction on Thursday evening.
But he added: “The bidding right now in the New York Market alternates between being crazy for the great [piece] that’s well priced and careful for the things that aren’t special.”
Warhol’s nearly 33ft long screen print of “The Last Supper” and Lichtenstein’s “Female Head” were among the works to draw solid interest and both sold above their estimated prices.
The Warhol print titled “Sixty Last Suppers”, featuring a repeated da Vinci painting of Jesus Christ, sold for $56m and, when fees were added, the price tag rose to $60.9m. Lichtenstein’s surrealist blonde female, who gazes sidelong at her viewer, sold for $24.5m with fees.
Christie’s led the pack with $789m from its Wednesday evening sale, thanks to Da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’, Latin for “saviour of the world”.
But Sotheby’s noted that once it was excluded, contemporary art sales at the two rivals would have been “very level”. Sotheby’s total was $303m without a Ferrari Formula One racing car, which drew an intense six-minute round of bidding and sold for $7.5m with fees.
Of the nearly $2.2bn generated between the houses, the three stood to make about $295m in fees for their services. Without those buyer premiums, sales through Thursday totalled $1.88bn, within the $1.6bn and $2.2bn estimate for the full week of auctions.
A final contemporary day sale on Friday at Sotheby’s York Avenue showroom could lift the full week’s haul to nearly $2.3bn, based on presale estimates.
Dealers said the measured pace of bidding for works that lacked the same wattage as some of the week’s standouts was reassuring, because it indicated the Market was not absorbing art at any price.
Pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jean Dubuffet failed to sell. Others barely passed their minimum estimates or fell short, including Warhol’s iconic painting of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. The Warhol, titled “Mao”, sold for $28.5m before fees, below the $30m-$40m presale estimate. With fees, the price tag rose to $32.4m.
“If you take the Leonardo out you would have had a very solid sale that would not feel frothy,” said David Zwirner, a gallery owner in New York. “The Market is very strong but sane. When it gets insane, then you have to worry about froth. I can’t think of an irrational result [on Wednesday] that really surprised, forget the da Vinci. And we won’t see too many Da Vinci’s trade in our lifetime.”