Virtual Fine Art Auction From Sotheby’s Reaches $192.7 Million

Liz Catalano
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Unexpected results came in for one of the last major Sotheby’s auctions of the summer, held on July 28th, 2020, in London. 65 works came under the hammer, broadcast to bidders via live stream. The sale, called “Rembrandt to Richter,” brought together many leading names in art from the last several centuries.

“With the global art world calendar having shifted, we too have seized the opportunity to do things differently,” said Helena Newman, the chair of Sotheby’s Europe. The auction was designed for “a new generation of collectors (who) show less concern with the traditional art market categories of the past.”

Sales reached USD 192.7 million with a 95% sell-through rate. Many of the available lots were new to the market or had been held in private collections for decades, including a Joan Miró painting that sold for GBP 22,302,120 (USD 29,203,000). The piece, titled Peinture (Femme au chapeau rouge), was previously owned by American sculptor Alexander Calder. An example of Miró’s “dream paintings” of the 1920s, the final price of the painting landed near the low presale estimate of GBP 20,000,000 (USD 26,188,500).

Joan Miró, Peinture (Femme au chapeau rouge), 1927. Image from Sotheby’s.
Joan Miró, Peinture (Femme au chapeau rouge), 1927. Image from Sotheby’s.

The Miró surpassed both titular lots of the auction: a miniature self-portrait by Rembrandt and a multi-paneled cloud painting by Gerhard Richter. Although the former sold comfortably within its estimate thanks to irrevocable bids, the auction’s surprises were found among the lower and mid-priced lots. Alberto Giacometti’s Femme debout bronze sculpture achieved GBP 10,676,800 (USD 13,984,750) after an estimate of GBP 4,000,000 to 6,000,000 (USD 5,239,300 to 7,859,650). The 1958 work, described in the lot essay as “the artist’s search for the ideal and idealized female figure,” also reached past the final price of a Henri Matisse oil painting.

Contemporary artists with rising popularity helped ensure this auction’s success. A self-portrait from Ghanian artist Amoako Boafo sold for GBP 237,500 (USD 311,000), nearly twice the high estimate of GBP 120,000 (USD 157,000). It was the second to last lot of the night. Boafo’s work has recently turned heads in the art market, with many of his 2019 paintings regularly bringing in USD 500,000 or above. His work titled Joy in Purple reached USD 668,000 at Phillips last month, a strong result from the auction house’s contemporary art evening sale.

Amoako Boafo, Self Portrait, 2017. Image from Sotheby’s.
Amoako Boafo, Self Portrait, 2017. Image from Sotheby’s.

Another anticipated lot was a set of three oil paintings from Banksy. Together titled Mediterranean Sea View 2017, these works were formerly displayed in the artist’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem. Banksy donated the triptych to raise money for the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, specifically funding new equipment and the establishment of an acute stroke unit. The paintings sold for GBP 2,235,000 (USD 2,925,560) against an estimate of GBP 800,000 to 1,200,000 (USD 1,047,000 to 1,570,500). This result ranks among the artist’s highest, though still places far from his record (set at USD 12.1 million last year with Devolved Parliament).

Other notable results from the recent auction include a stone relief piece from French Cubist Henri Laurens, a brass sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, and a large panel painting from Italian Renaissance master Paolo Uccello.

Banksy, Mediterranean Sea View 2017, 2017. Image from Sotheby’s.
Banksy, Mediterranean Sea View 2017, 2017. Image from Sotheby’s.

In a press conference following the auction’s conclusion, Sotheby’s representatives spoke to the unusual structure of this sale, as well as the cross-departmental bidding. “It’s really appropriate that the sale was led from an Old Masters perspective by someone as modern as Rembrandt,” said Andrew Fletcher, the Senior Director of the Old Master Paintings department. “[It] broke down every barrier you could imagine.”

This event was the last major summer auction of the season for Sotheby’s, one reflecting developments in the industry within the last several months. The auction total was placed near its high estimate, a figure lowered by nearly USD 40 million after the last-minute withdrawal of several lots

For many in the auction industry, the sale’s success reaffirms the growing trend toward live-streamed and cross-category auctions. A necessity for public health, the format also saves auction houses the expense of in-person events. Philip Hoffman, a London-based art advisor, commented on the recent auction: “There’s no audience with dinner parties to go to, and the auction house is making massive cost savings on catalogs, travel, and entertainment.”

Visit Sotheby’s for more information and to view the complete auction results.

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