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Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker takes bids in London via video-link from the auction houses other international offices.

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Auctioneer Oliver Barker conducted proceedings from the rostrum in London (with a large bank of video screens directly in front of him) while staff in New York, London and Hong Kong took phone bids live on camera, adding to the online bidding. Billed as ‘a new era of evening auctions’, it was the first real test of the very top end of the art market since the Covid-19 lockdown.

The overall total on June 30 came in at $363.2m (£293m) including premium, a solid figure considering the circumstances and comfortably within the presale estimate. A series of high prices, including 19 individual artist ’s records, suggested that the lack of room bidding did not dramatically affect confidence, something that bodes well for rival Christie’s own cross-continent event on July 10.

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Sotheby’s staff taking phone bids in New York for the live-streamed series of three back-to-back auctions.

The main issue for the auction houses though would appear to be in securing material to sell. While the changes to this year’s calendar make comparisons difficult, these sales were smaller than normal and the final total from the current series (once the day sales are added) will probably pale in comparison to the $842.2m (£654.9m) that Sotheby’s generated from its New York Modern and Contemporary series in May last year, for example.

Bacon triptych

As expected, the Contemporary art auction raised the bulk of Sotheby’s combined total, with 29 of the 30 lots selling for a combined $234.9m (£189.5m). It included the top lot of the entire event, Francis Bacon’s (1909-92) Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus which was estimated at $60-80m and knocked down at $74m (£59.7m) after a 10-minute contest.

A phone bidder operating through a Sotheby’s New York staff member succeeded against an online bidder from China.

Sotheby’s had offered a guarantee to the vendor to secure the consignment.


Francis Bacon’s 'Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus' – $74m (£59.7m) at Sotheby’s.

The work itself was one of the artist’s 28 large-format triptychs that date from 1962 and 1991. The subject here one itself relates to Aeschylus’s trilogy of Greek tragedies, a classical text from the 5th century BC upon which Bacon also based earlier works.

It was acquired by the Norwegian collector Hans Rasmus Astrup from dealer Marlborough Fine Art in 1987 and Sotheby’s had offered a guarantee to the vendor to secure the consignment.

Online record

A new high for an artwork sold online was also posted twice over the course of the night. Firstly, Joan Mitchell’s (1925-92) Garden Party sold to an online bidder at $6.7m (£5.4m), only to be surpassed by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Head) that made $13.1m (£10.6m) and set an auction record for a work on paper by the artist.

The Impressionist & Modern art section generated a $62.8m (£50.6m) total with 26 of the 32 lots selling. It was led by Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) depiction of his muse Marie- Thérèse Walter, Tête de femme endormie, 1934, which sold for $9.6m (£7.74m) against a $9m-12m estimate.

Offered with a third-party guarantee, the work last appeared at auction in 1960 when it sold for £4500 and had been in the collection of Carmen and David Lloyd Kreeger since 1962.

£1 = $1.24