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Phillips London Evening & Day Editions

September 25, 2023
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Andy Warhol

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (Royal Edition) by Andy Warhol

Starting on Thursday, September 21st, and continuing into the next day, Phillips London held a two-day modern and contemporary art extravaganza for their Evening and Day Editions. The two-part sale featured two hundred seventy-nine lots by twentieth- and twenty-first-century masters such as Banksy, Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter, KAWS, and Takashi Murakami. The Evening Edition sale on September 21st featured the first seventy-two lots, including all four of the sale’s top lots. There was Andy Warhol’s 1985 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from the Reigning Queens series, which took the top spot just two weeks after the anniversary of her passing. The Reigning Queens series originally consisted of four portraits each of four queens on the throne at the time of their creation, which in 1985 were Queen Elizabeth, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and Queen Ntfombi of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland). The portrait featured at Phillips on Thursday is from a special edition known as the Royal Edition, which the artist scattered with ground-up glass, or what Warhol referred to as diamond dust, that provides a sparkle to the screenprint (in 2012, the Royal Collection purchased a copy of all four color variations of the Queen Elizabeth Royal Edition prints). Estimated to sell between £120K and £180K, Queen Elizabeth eventually sold slightly above estimate for £205K / $252.1K (or £260.4K / $320.2K w/p).

A comic-like print of two nude women in bed.

Two Nudes by Roy Lichtenstein

Just behind Her Majesty was one of several works offered by Roy Lichtenstein. This relief print, called Two Nudes, comes from one of the last series of works Lichtenstein executed before his death in 1997. The print shows two naked women depicted using the Ben-Day dots that often appear in Lichtenstein‘s work. The print reached its high estimate and sold at £200K / $245.9K (or £254K / $312.4K w/p). The third-place spot at Phillips came down to a tie. First was a collection of prints by Robert Indiana, all different-colored variations on his classic Love design. Completed in 1996, the series shows that Indiana wasn’t entirely done with the iconic image even more than thirty years after first creating it. Each print measures around 18 by 18 inches and has an accompanying poem. While they can be displayed individually, to truly admire them, it might be best to have them kept as a proper book, where one can turn the pages and read the individual poem associated with its specific variation. There was also another Andy Warhol portrait, this one of the classical and romantic composer Ludwig van Beethoven. This screenprint is based on the famous portrait of the composer created by Joseph Karl Stieler around 1820 when Beethoven was 50 years old. Warhol applied an incredibly bright, vibrant color palette to the work, accentuating Beethoven’s hair and eyes with pink and purple. Meanwhile, what seems to be Beethoven’s hand-written copy of the Moonlight Sonata appears across the portrait as if the music is surrounding him. Phillips’ specialists assigned the Indiana book a pre-sale estimate of £70K to £90K, while the Warhol portrait received a slightly lower estimate range of between £50K and £70K. Both achieved £80K / $98.4K (or £101.6K / $124.9K w/p). 

A series of Robert Indiana's Love design repeated twelve times in different colors.

The Book of Love by Robert Indiana

While the Evening Edition featured all the top-selling works, the following Day Edition was far longer and contained all the surprises. In total, ten lots sold for double their high estimates or greater. These include a Joan Miró lithograph and a Tracey Emin etching. However, some of the day’s biggest surprises included William Tillyer’s The Scalby Suite, a set of eight prints made through etching and aquatint. The eight prints were first created in 2022 and came accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. Estimated to sell for between £1500 and £2000, the Tillyer prints eventually sold for four times the high estimate at £8000 / $9.8K (or £10.2K / $12.4K w/p). Later, there is also Beautiful Exotic Stretching Etchy Spinning Void Etching, a drypoint print created by Damien Hirst in 1995. A small work measuring only 9 3/4“ x 7 7/8“, it was predicted by Phillips specialists to sell for no more than £1500, yet it sold for £9K / $11K (or £11.4K / $13.9K w/p), exactly six times the high estimate.

A portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven highlighted with pink and purple.

Beethoven by Andy Warhol

Overall, the Evening and Day Editions did incredibly well. With a total pre-sale estimate range of £1.9 million to £2.9 million, at the end of the day on Friday, the total fell nicely in-between at £2.2 million / $2.7 million. Of the two hundred seventy-nine available lots, one hundred eleven sold within their estimates, giving Phillips’ specialists a 40% accuracy rate. With sixty-seven lots (24%) selling under and fifty-eight lots (21%) selling over, only forty-three lots went unsold, giving the sale an 85% sell-through rate. The last time Phillips performed this well in a sale I covered was the June 8th Day Edition sale in London, which had a 93% sell-through rate.