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Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale

October 7, 2020
scribbles and colors of yellow and orange


On October 7th, Christie’s presented their sale of 20th century works of art.  The title is a little misleading since the earliest lot was some 67 million years old, and there were 5 works from the 19th century.  As you will soon see, while the sale generated a good deal of money, it was not a real blockbuster.

painting with red, purple, and black


The top lot of the evening was Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Bolsena) that hammered at $35M ($38.685M w/p – est. $35-50M).  We know that this painting was guaranteed by a third party and it is obvious that they were the ultimate buyer since the final price with the buyer’s premium is less than it should be  … $38.685M vs. $40.7M … that is a nice savings!  Taking second at Mark Rothko’s Untitled that hammered at $28M ($31.275M w/p – est. $30-$50M – this was another guaranteed lot that was acquired by the guarantor). The Rothko last appears on the auction block in 1998 where is made $1.2M, and then was acquired around 2002 by Ron Perelman (the seller). And the surprise of the evening, and one of the few lots with serious action, was Stan.  Stan is a T-Rex skeleton that was offered at the end of the sale with an estimate of $6-8M, and when the battle ended, the buyer had to cough up $27.5M ($31.848M w/p).



Rounding out the top 5 were a still life by Cézanne that brought $26M ($28.65M w/p – estimate on request – whisper number was $25M), and Picasso’s Femme dans un fauteuil at $25.5M ($29.56M w/p – est. $20-30M).

There were a couple of other lots that seemed to garner a bit of action, Damien Hirst’s bronze titled Mickey at $1.9 hammer ($2.31M w/p – est. $700K-1M), and a small still life by Renoir that made $2.3M ($2.79M w/p – est. $800-1.2M).  Then there were a number of works that found no takers – Warhol’s Statue of Liberty (est. $1.2-1.8M), an early van Gogh still life (est. $1.5-2M), Koons’s Dolphin (est. $2-3M), and Miro’s Le Cirque (est. $3-5M). And let’s not forget that 4 works were pulled from the sale, including Brice Marden’s The Golden Pelvic (est. $12-18M), and Picasso’s Tête de femme sur fond jaune (est. $8-12M).

By the time the sale began, of the 59 lots originally in the sale, 4 were withdrawn; this left 55 to be sold.  Of those, 46 found buyers and the other 9 were returned to their owners (83.6% sell-through rate), with a total take of about $291M hammer ($340.8M w/p).  The presale estimate was $277-$401M, so they just made it … and that is all because of T-Rex!

Looking a bit closer, we find that of the 46 sold lots, 13 were below, 28 within, and 4 above their presale estimate ranges.  This gave them an accuracy rate of 60.8% … which is pretty strong.  In addition, 14 of the works were guaranteed … and a few of those guarantees came on the day of the sale.