Mao 7 was one of several Andy Warhol works to soar over estimate at the February round of Contemporary art sales in London. Estimated at £400,000-600,000, it was pursued by four bidders to £1.3m at Sotheby’s on the evening of February 9.

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The London art market experienced a serious bout of global warming last week when prices at Sotheby's and Christie's evening Contemporary art sales soared to unprecedented heights. Christie's total of £37m on February 8 almost doubled the previous high for a Contemporary art sale in London and was a staggering £10m above the pre-sale upper estimate. Sotheby's £30.4m the following evening was also a house record.

"This is a global collecting community," purred Sotheby's auctioneer Tobias Meyer after seeing lot after lot selling to or being underbid for multiple-estimate sums to private telephone bidders scattered across the world. Such was the volume of bidding at these jam-packed 62-lot evening sales that both auctions took over two hours to complete and only six works were left unsold overall.

Seasoned American traders who track prices on artnet were baffled by the levels new private bidders were prepared to pay for paintings by Andy Warhol. A large 1981-82 Dollar Sign sold to a hitherto unknown private collector in the room
for a quadruple-upper-estimate £2.3m at Christie's, while at Sotheby's a private underbidder who hadn't actually viewed the sale was prepared to push Warhol's 1973 Mao 7 to a double-upper-estimate £1.3m.

British artists were also looming large on the price lists. Francis Bacon's 1969 Self-Portrait and 1959 Study from Portrait of Innocent X both fetched £4.6m at Christie's, followed by a record-equalling £3.7m for Lucian Freud's 1988-89 Man in a String Chair. Freud's £3.15m Bruce Bernard (Seated) from 1996 proved the top seller the following evening at Sotheby's where, among six new records for British artists, Sir Anthony Caro's important 1962 steel girder sculpture, Sculpture Two, took £1.25m.

Earlier in the week, global private bidding had also breathed new life into the Impressionist & Modern markets. Boosted by the £16.9m input of eight important works by Edvard Munch from the Olsen Collection, Sotheby's February 7 Impressionist & Modern evening sale total of £69.6m was an all-time high for Bond Street, finally beating the £66.8m achieved in November 1989 at the height of the last art boom.

Christie's total of £61.6m the previous night was their second highest ever total in London. However, this King Street evening sale, like Sotheby's, included a far larger number of lots than would have been offered in the late 1980s and apart from one obvious masterpiece - Chaïm Soutine's record-breaking c.1924 La beouf écorché at a record £7m - overall quality levels were generally lower. But none of this seemed to matter to the new international clients queuing up to bid at Sotheby's and Christie's, who for the first time ever turned over more than £200m for Part I and Part Two of the Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary sales in London.