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Sotheby’s London Contemporary Evening Sale

October 16, 2022
Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes by Francis Bacon

Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes by Francis Bacon

On Friday, October 14th, Sotheby’s London held their much-anticipated Contemporary Evening sale, anticipated because it featured the first of several works from the collection of former CBS President William Paley, which I discussed earlier last monthThree Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes by Francis Bacon was the only lot of the Paley collection up for grabs that day and was expected to be the sale’s big star. Sotheby’s specialists estimated it would go for £30M. Even though it fell short at £23M / $25.7M (or £24.3 / $27.2M w/p), it was still the sale’s most expensive lot. The house experts were also pretty spot-on with the second place lot, Gerhard Richter’s 1966 oil on canvas 192 Farben. It’s a large painting of differently colored squares arranged in a grid. It fell nicely within its pre-sale estimate, expected to make at least £13M, eventually reaching £15.7M / $17.5 (or £18.3M / $20.4M w/p).

192 Farben by Gerhard Richter, sold at Sotheby's London - boxes of colors

192 Farben by Gerhard Richter

Other than those two, Sotheby’s dropped the ball a bit when it came to some of the other highly valued lots. The Andy Warhol screenprint Nine Multicolored Marilyns was expected to reach at least £6M, but a lack of interest resulted in the hammer coming down at £4.3M. A little later on, the Thomas Schütte sculpture Bronzefrau Nr. 11 was set to sell for at least £2M but ended up the only lot that day that went unsold. Consequently, Head of J.Y.M. by Frank Auerbach became the sale’s third-place lot. The person in the painting, Juliet Yardley Mills, is probably one of Auerbach’s best-known subjects, with Auerbach having created multiple abstract portraits of her throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Appropriately, the Sotheby’s house experts predicted the portrait would go for anywhere between £3M and £4M. However, it exceeded those estimates, with that day’s bidders bringing the final hammer price to £4.7M / $5.3M (or £5.6M / $6.3M w/p), an all-time auction record for Frank Auerbach. His previous record was set not even four months ago, when Head of Gerda Bohm sold at Sotheby’s London on June 29th for £3.4M.

Head of J.Y.M. by Frank Auerbach, sold at Sotheby's London, Auerbach's auction record

Head of J.Y.M. by Frank Auerbach

In total, there were thirty-four lots available at the evening sale. Even though sixteen of them, or 47%, sold over their estimates, Sotheby’s just barely snuck past the sale’s total £73.1M minimum estimate, reaching £73.9M (or $82.6M). As previously noted, I attribute this to some of the higher-valued lots selling for under their estimates. But I think the only thing that saved the sale from bringing in less than expected was that eight initially listed lots were suddenly withdrawn the day of the sale. But I suppose with a 97% sold rate, as well as a 23% accuracy rate for the experts’ predictions, the sale didn’t do that bad.