Published: August 28, 2007
On June 21, Sotheby’s achieved its highest contemporary art sale total in Europe, when it sold $144,319,236 worth of art. It also made auction history when Damien Hirst’s exquisite pill cabinet “Lullaby Spring” soared to $19.2 million, making Hirst the most expensive living artist at auction. The sale also brought the highest price of the auction week in London as Francis Bacon’s “Self Portrait” was sold to a private American collector for the spectacular price of $43 million. On both occasions, the room broke out in spontaneous applause.
Oliver Barker, senior director, senior international specialist, said, “The sale’s extraordinary results, which we are absolutely thrilled with, are testament to a contemporary art market being driven by masterpieces and serious collectors, who are prepared to bid high in order to secure coveted pieces for their collections. The sale presented a near-unique opportunity to acquire a large-scale self portrait by Francis Bacon and one of the ‘Four Seasons’ cabinets by Damien Hirst †both masterpieces in the artists’ oeuvres. Longtime collectors of their work competed against each other to acquire these exquisite and rare pieces.”
Bacon’s sublime “Self Portrait,” an iconic image of one of the most influential figurative painters of the late Twentieth Century sold after a protracted bidding war between up to four determined collectors, some bidding in the room and some on the telephones. The work had been estimated at $16/24 million. That followed the success of Bacon’s “Study from Innocent X,” which was sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2007 for a world record price of $52.6 million.
With “Lullaby Spring,” Hirst took on one of the most enduring allegorical themes, the “Four Seasons.” Executed in 2002, the work, measuring almost 9 feet in width and containing 6,136 hand crafted and painted pills, is one from a series of four unique stainless steel cabinets sold during the evening for the phenomenal sum of $19,232,575, making Hirst the most expensive living artist at auction, taking over the mantle from Jasper Johns. This fantastic result comes in the light of the current exhibition of Hirst’s work at the White Cube Gallery in London. Titled “Beyond Belief,” the show is highlighted by the infamous platinum skull studded with thousands of diamonds and titled “For the Love of God.”
The evening began on a euphoric note when a group of works whose proceeds are being donated to the NSPCC’s Treatment and Therapeutic Services crossed the block. Generous donations were offered by five leading British contemporary artists †Hirst, Keith Tyson, Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and Grayson Perry.
With Emin present at the auction, the five-lot section of the sale not only raised $3,029,549 for the charity, but a record was also established for Tyson’s “Nature Painting,” which sold for $430,402. Emin’s neon work titled “Keep Me Safe,” sold for $119,556, a record for the medium.
European art fared extremely well, with Lucio Fontana’s “Concetto Spaziale, Attese.” This lyrical and elegant work, dated 1965, is one of the largest examples ever to have come to auction, and justly made a record for the artist of $4,949,618.
Further demonstrating the international appeal and continued demand for Chinese contemporary art, seven works by some of China’s most important contemporary artists, including Yue Minjun and Zhang Xiaogang, performed exceptionally well. The group realized a combined total of $9,687,224. The top selling lot of the group was Yue Minjun’s “The Pope,” which drew intense competition among three bidders, finally selling to a buyer on the telephone for $4.3 million, more than twice its presale high estimate, smashing the previous record by $1.6 million and setting the highest price for a work of Chinese contemporary art at auction.
Francis Outred, head of the evening action, said, “We were lucky enough to source some remarkable material for the Chinese contemporary section of the sale. Our buyers clearly responded to the exceptionally high quality works on offer.”
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.sothebys.com or 20 7293 6000.
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