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Sotheby’s Contemporary In London. So Close, Yet So Far.

June 27, 2018

Lucian Freud

This week, Sotheby’s London presented their Contemporary works of art and it began with an evening sale that went pretty well.  Taking top honors was Lucian Freud’s’ Portrait on a White Cover which carried a £17-20M estimate and hammered for £19.7M or £22.5M ($29.8M) with commission (w/c).  Coming in second was Basquiat’s Untitled (how can they tell one ‘Untitled’ from another) which was estimated at £7.5-10M and hammered for £12.8M (£14.67M/$19.49M w/c) and taking the third spot was David Hockney’s Double East Yorkshire which had trouble and hammered for £9.8M (£11.88M/$14.98M – w/c), requiring the buyer’s premium to make it into the £10-15M estimate. Rounding out the top five were Basquiat’s New York, New York which brought £7M (£8.1M/$10.8M w/c) and Peter Doig’s Daytime Astronomy at £6.6M (£7.67M/$10.2M – w/c).


It was an interesting sale to watch.  The first 17 lots all did pretty well, selling within or above their estimate ranges … some even crushed it like Basquiat’s Untitled (another one) at £3.9M/$5.2M w/c (est. £1.5-2.5) and Cecily Brown’s The Skin of Our Teeth at £3M/$4M w/c (est. £750-950K). Lot 18, an Andy Warhol, was the first to sell below its range at £1.15M hammer (est. £1.2-1.8M).  From that point on the results were up and down, but every lot sold… well, almost every lot.  It looked like they were going to have a white-glove sale until lot 43 appeared … a Keith Haring that was estimated to sell for £800-1.2M and sadly there were no takers.  Even sadder, it was the next to last lot on the sale. As they say, so close, yet so far.


By the end of the session, 43 of the 44 works sold, giving them a solid 97.7% sell-through rate.  The total take was £93.7M/$124.4M (110.24M/$146.4M w/c) on a presale estimate range of £79.7-108.2M, so they comfortably made it at the hammer and beat it with the buyer’s premium (w/c).  Of the 43 sold works, 13 sold below, 15 within and 15 above their range leaving them with an accuracy rate of 34% which is not too bad when you consider that another 34% sold above expectations.  If you have to be wrong, that is the way to do it!

Of note, the competition decided to forego a Contemporary sale in June, which is probably a good idea since we seem to be getting to the point where there is just way too much material hitting the market.  A little breather is in order … but wait, there is always July and more sales.