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Rothko leads Sotheby’s biggest-ever sale

14 November 2012Written by Alex Capon

Sotheby’s evening sale of Contemporary art in New York on November 13 achieved the highest total for any auction in the company’s history.

The $331.2m (£216.5m) hammer total beat the previous house record of $321m (£172m) set by their Contemporary art sale in May 2008.

Seven lots were knocked down for over $10m (£6.56m) as bidders contested some of the most sought-after pieces of American abstract art ever offered in the saleroom. These included the top lot of the sale, Mark Rothko's No.1 (Royal Red and Blue) which sold for $67m (£43.8m).

Knocked down to an anonymous phone buyer, it sold above the $35m-50m estimate. The price stands as the second highest at auction for the artist only behind Orange, Red, Yellow which made $77.5m (£50m) at Christie's New York in May.

The latest Rothko was the ninth highest selling lot ever sold at auction.

The work itself was over 9ft (2.74m) high and was one of eight oils on canvas from 1954 selected for Rothko's landmark solo show at the Art Institute of Chicago in the same year.

Kohl Collection

Also in Sotheby's sale were eight lots from the collection of Milwaukee couple Sidney and Dorothy Kohl that added a cool $89.9m (£58.8m) to the total. The consignment included Jackson Pollock's Number 4, 1951, a trademark drip painting on canvas.

Estimated at $25m-35m, it was subject to an 'irrevocable bid' before the auction, meaning it was always going to sell. On the night, however, it drew a number of interested parties over its lower estimate and also sold to an anonymous phone buyer at $36m (£23.5m).

This was an auction record for the artist, although works by Pollock have changed hands privately for substantially more.

From the same source was Willem de Kooning's Abstraction from c.1949 that took $17.5m (£11.4m), also selling on the phone, and Clyfford Still's 1948-H that sold to an American private buyer below estimate at $8.75m (£5.72m).

From a separate source was one of Francis Bacon's  paintings of a screaming pope which had been in the same private collection since 1975. Dating from c.1954, it was one of the earlier versions of the artist's 45 works relating to Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X.

Estimated at £18-25m, it drew four bidders before it was knocked down to an anonymous phone buyer at $26.5m. Only one other version has made more, a 1962 study that sold for $47m (£23.5m) in the same rooms in May 2007.

£1 = $1.53

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