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Previously owned by American collectors Paul and Rachel Mellon as well as Christie's owner François Pinault (who sold it to the current vendor), here it was knocked down to a phone bidder at $41.25m (£27.8m). It was underbid by an Asian collector also bidding on the phone.

The 8ft (2.43m) high oil on canvas from 1954 was estimated at $40m-60m.

Overall the 63-lot sale generated a premium-inclusive total of $379.7m (£256.5m) making it Sotheby's second highest ever Contemporary art auction, with 55 lots finding buyers (87%). The sale's presale estimate was $315.1m-411.2m.

The auctioneers said that works were consigned from 11 countries and bidders came from 40 countries with significant participation from Latin America and Asia. Seven artist's records were achieved for Christopher Wool, Sigmar Polke, Mark Bradford, Mark Grotjahn, Danh Vô, Thomas Struth and Helen Frankenthaler.

Lichtenstein's Return

Elsewhere at the sale, Roy Lichtenstein's The Ring (Engagement) from 1962 drew less competition than was anticipated, selling to an Asian collector at $37m (£25m). It had an 'estimate on request' which was believed to be in the region of $50m.

The vendor, Chicago collector Stefan T. Edlis, had been given a guarantee by the auctioneers. He had acquired the painting at Sotheby's New York in November 1997 where it was knocked down at $2m (£1.18m).

Although it had witnessed an 18-fold increase in price over the 18-year period, the lack of bidding this time round was a slight disappointment as this was one of the artist's largest comic book canvases made between 1961 and 1965.

It had also been included in major museum exhibitions at the Tate in 1968, Fondation Beyeler in 1998, and the most recent travelling retrospective at Tate Modern, National Gallery of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Centre Pompidou in 2012.

The buyer's premium at Sotheby's New York was 25/20/12%.

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