THE latest Contemporary art sales in London were a little flatter than expected, but Modern British art generated a batch of stand-out prices.
Both evening sales at Sotheby's and Christie's went below their pre-sale estimates last week, as was the case with the Impressionist and Modern series the week before, but the Capital's Contemporary week witnessed records for leading British names, including Frank Auerbach, Chris Ofili and the Chapman Brothers.
The combined hammer total for the Contemporary sales was £95.58m, which took the overall figure for the June fortnight of auctions to £361.5m, below the £399m pre-sale low estimate but well over double the £132.6m of the equivalent series last year.
Sotheby's Contemporary art evening sale on June 28 made £35.5m (estimate: £38.3m-52.8m), with 44 of the 53 lots finding buyers, and saw seven of a collection of eight works from an unnamed London collection sell for £3.6m setting two artist records.
Uppermost amongst the consignment was Frank Auerbach's (b.1931) Mornington Crescent - Summer Morning from 1991, which saw three bidders compete for it above its £1.5m-2m estimate. A colourful urban landscape, it was knocked down at £2m to an anonymous telephone bidder - a new high for the artist at auction - against trade underbidding in the room.
The top lot at Sotheby's was Yves Klein's RE 49, Relief Eponge Bleu from 1961, a large-scale work consisting of natural sponges and other mixed media laid down on panel, which came from the collection of the German banking firm HVB Group and was estimated at £4.5m-6.5m. It drew a number of telephone bidders and sold to a US private buyer at £5.5m.
Christie's evening sale on June 30 saw 52 of the 62 lots sell for a hammer total of £39.4m (estimate £40.9m-58.1m).
Among six auction records, a new high was seen for Chris Ofili (b.1968), whose painting celebrating African womanhood Orgena from 1998, which featured the artist's trademark use of elephant dung, sold to a US private buyer on the phone for £1.65m against a £700,000-1m estimate.
The same buyer also secured Glenn Brown's (b.1966) 9ft (2.74m) high oil painting Dali-Christ at a record £1.25m and the enormous fibreglass statue, Übermensch, by Jake and Dinos Chapman, showing Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair precariously perched on a rocky crag, for a price which, although a below-estimate £200,000, was another auction record.
Both works had featured in Charles Saatchi's 1997 Young British Artists' exhibition Sensation, although the advertising magnate, who last week announced he was intending to donate key elements of his collection to the nation, was not the vendor here.
Top lot at Christie's was one of Andy Warhol's (1928-1987) silkscreen paintings of Elizabeth Taylor. Silver Liz from 1963 sold for a low-estimate £6m to an anonymous telephone buyer.
• Bonhams, meanwhile, sold a Frank Auerbach 1961 portrait of his long-term lover, Estella Olive West at their 20th Century British art sale on June 30. Entitled Head of E.O.W. III, it made £750,000 against a £400,000-600,000 estimate.
By Alex Capon