Oliver Barker at Sotheby's
Oliver Barker, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, taking bids for Lucian Freud’s diminutive portrait of David Hockney that sold for £12.8m.

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Like-for-like comparisons have become difficult due to the merging of categories – Sotheby’s included works normally appearing in Modern British sales, while Christie’s figures were bolstered by combining auctions run out of Paris as well as London.

However, the £347.7m total generated from last week’s flagship sales was over double the combined June and July sales in equivalent categories last year.

It was also above the £312.1m total posted at the March 2021 series (although discounting Christie’s sales that took place in Paris, it was only marginally above that figure).

Fifty in the room

Sotheby’s British Art evening sale on June 29 offered a mixture of modern and contemporary works. With 50 clients allowed in the room, it was led by Lucian Freud’s Portrait of David Hockney that sold for £12.8m against an £8m-12m estimate.

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Lucian Freud's portrait of David Hockney that sold for £12.8m at Sotheby's.

Dating from 2002, the picture of the 65-year-old Hockney was painted when Freud himself was 80. Hockney recalled: “It was a very memorable and enjoyable experience. I thought his portrait very good indeed – all the [200] hours I sat were layered into it; he had always added, rarely taken anything away. It really shows.”

The painting was pursued by five bidders giving instructions to Sotheby’s staff based in New York, London and Hong Kong. The winning bid was placed by the London team.

The sale also featured a Lowry on a sporting theme. Going to the Match from 1928 showed a crowd walking to a rugby ground, among the earliest of the artist’s works on this subject. In the same family collection since 1972, it was knocked down at £2.4m – the seventh highest price for Lowry at auction.

Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary art evening sale held on the same day produced the highest individual price of the week. Wassily Kandinsky’s Tensions Calmées scraped over an £18m-25m estimate and was knocked down at £18.3m. It was last sold at auction in 1964 where it fetched £10,000 as one of 50 Kandinskys from Solomon Guggenheim. Here the price represented the third highest at auction for the Russian avant-garde painter

Overall the sale raised a total of £108m including premium with 53 of the 57 lots selling on the night (93%).

The following night, Christie’s held its 20th-21st Century sale in London which raised £119.2m. In all, 46 of the 52 lots (88%) sold.

The sale was led by a late Picasso – L’Étreinte from 1969 which was thought to depict the artist with his second wife Jacqueline. It came to auction from a European vendor whose family had acquired it in 1998.

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‘L'Étreinte’ by Pablo Picasso – £12.6m at Christie’s.

Estimated at £11m-16m, it was subject to an irrevocable bid, meaning it was always bound to get away on the night, but drew additional interest from phone bidders and was knocked down at £12.6m.

With the sale later ‘transferring’ to Paris for the auction of the collection of Francis Gross followed by further lots from mixed-owners, Christie’s reported bidding from 32 countries and said it was its ‘best summer season since 2017’.