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Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale

October 7, 2020
scribbles and colors of yellow and orange

Twombly

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

Rothko

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).

dinosaur

T-Rex

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), Picasso’s Guitare et compotier sur un guéridon devant la fenètre (est. $7-10M), 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By the time the sale began, of the 59 lots originally in the sale, 4 were withdrawn; this left 55 to be sold.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 the 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 in the day of the sale.

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