Barnett Newman (1905-70) and Gerhard Richter (b.1932) starred at Sotheby’s evening sale of Contemporary art last night as the run of strong performing sales in this sector showed little sign of abating.

Billed as 'the most important painting by Barnett Newman ever to appear at auction', Onement VI was the largest of a series of six abstracts from 1953 of which only two remain in private hands. The 8ft 6in x 10ft (2.59 x 3.05m) blue-coloured oil on canvas with the artist's trademark 'zip' had been acquired by the vendor in 2000 and had a symbol in the catalogue denoting it was subject to a third-party guarantee.

Estimated at $30m-40m, it drew at least five bidders at the sale and was taken up to $39m (£26.4m) at which point it was knocked down to a European private buyer on the phone. It was the top lot of the sale.

The price surpassed the previous high for the artist at auction by some margin - Onement V that sold at Christie's New York in May 2012 at $20m (£12.9m) which was from the same series.

Richter Record

Three lots later, Gerhard Richter's Domplatz, Mailand [Cathedral Square, Milan] established not only a new record for the German painter but also for any living artist. Consigned by Hyatt Hotels Corporation, the work was deemed one of the most impressive examples of his 1960s photo-paintings.

It had previously sold at Sotheby's in London in 1998 for a premium-inclusive $3.6m and had been hung in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel in Chicago. Although the estimate looked pretty hefty at £30m-40m, the growth in demand for Richter in the intervening period was sufficient to see it get away at $33m (£22.3m) to a private American collector. It outscored the £19m seen for Richter's Abstraktes Bild (809-4) sold at Sotheby's London in October.

The 9ft x 9ft 6in (2.75 x 2.90m) oil on canvas from 1968 itself came about as a result of a commission by Siemens Elettra to produce a work for their Milan offices.

The reported buyer was Donald Bryant, Jr.

Klein Sponge

Setting the highest auction price for a sculpture by Yves Klein (1928-1962), one the artist's works made of natural sponges in flower-like form took $19.5m (£13.2m). The 3ft 8in (1.13m) high piece dated from 1959 and was offered with an unpublished estimate.

The biggest casualty of the night was Francis Bacon's 1962 Study for Portrait of P.L which failed to generate any bidding against a $30m-40m estimate. The pitch appears to have been deemed a bit punchy for a slightly less dynamic canvas by the artist.

Overall, the 64-lot sale saw 53 works get away (83%) for a hammer total of $256.2m, slightly shy of the $283.9m- $382.9m presale estimate.

The Contemporary art sales series in New York continues tonight at Christie's. Their sale will offer 72 lots including works from the collection of singer Andy Williams who died last year.