These quiet days, with a few or no major auctions going on, are the perfect timing for remembering the highest sales of this summer. There are no surprise here: all top 10 sales were closed in two biggest auction houses in the world, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, during their contemporary evening sales in London on June 30 and July 1, respectively. As we’ve mentioned it already, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction did a better job than Christie’s Post War and Contemporary Evening Auction – Sotheby’s broke its record for a sale in Europe, and thus, Christie’s had only three sales in top 10, as opposed to Sotheby’s seven, including top four. Ten artworks that ended in top 10 sales were estimated at $122,666,145 – $172,666,305 and were sold for $154,310,468, and were made by just five artists: Francis Bacon had four works in top 10, Andy Warhol and Yves Klein had two apiece, and Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat had one work each.
Yves Klein - Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 239), 1959
We’ll kick of with our number 10, and that is artwork by Yves Klein named Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 239), that was executed in 1959. It was put on sale at Sotheby’s London and was estimated at $6,247,080 – $9,370,620, but was sold way below high estimate – for $7,496,496. This Klein’s work is made on canvas laid down on panel, during his most important artistic period, Blue epoch. Three letters IKB stand for International Klein Blue – this deep blue hue was named after Yves Klein.
Jean-Michel Basquiat - Orange Sports Figure, 1982
At number nine, there is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Orange Sports Figure from 1982, that is also sold at Sotheby’s London, during Contemporary Art Evening Auction. It was estimated at $7,808,850 – $10,932,390, and was sold closer to low estimate – for $7,652,673, or with -30 percent difference between hammer price and high estimate. This work marks Basquiat’s transition from street art to studio art that happened in early 1980’s.
Yves Klein - Peinture de feu couleur sans titre (FC 27), 1962
At number eight – another Yves Klein. This time, it is a painting Peinture de feu couleur sans titre (FC 27) that Klein executed during the final year of his short life (when Klein died in 1962, he was just 34 years old). It had the starting price of $7,825,650, and was sold for $8,138,676 at Christie’s Post War and Contemporary Evening Auction on June 30. This is a very rare Klein’s work, in which he united his three unique colors – International Klein Blue (IKB), gold and pink.
Andy Warhol - Dollar Signs, 1981
Andy Warhol’s Dollar Signs is not the only dollar-motivated artwork on this list, as you will see later. This one was sold at Sotheby’s for $9,448,709, which was good for number seven on our top 10 list. It was made in 1981, between a recession in the late 1970’s, and Reagan’s deregulation that started in the beginning of the 1980’s, so the timing was perfect. Warhol’s dollar sign is one of the most iconic Pop art symbols, just along Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell’s Soup cans.
Francis Bacon - Two Men Working in a Field, 1971
At number six, there is just first of total four Bacon’s works in these 10 highest sales of the summer. His Two Men Working in a Field was sold at Christie’s for $14,868,735 (estimated at $10,955,910 – $15,651,300). It depicts a rare Bacon’s landscape, that was painted for the artist’s landmark retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, in the middle of his agonizing relationship with George Dyer. Dyer, Bacon’s muse and lover, committed suicide just hours before the Grand Palais opening in 1971.
Francis Bacon - Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer, 1967
At number five, another Francis Bacon. His Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer was sold at Christie’s on June 30 for $16,903,404 (it was estimated at $12,521,040 – $18,781,560) and it was Bacon’s first of only ten diptychs. Bacon painted two of his most profound and intimate relationships – his lover and muse, George Dyer, and his lifelong friend and confidante, the artist Isabel Rawsthorne. Isabel Rawsthorne was a devoted friend to the artist for the rest of her life. Dyer’s suicide four years after this painting was made had a devastating impact on Bacon, and caused artist’s celebrated series of black triptychs.
Gerhard Richter - A B, Brick Tower, 1987
Gerhard Richter’s A B, Brick Tower, executed in 1987, is his only work in this top 10 sales of the summer, and with a hammer price of $19,522,125 (estimated at $18,741,240 – $24,988,320) A B, Brick Tower found itself at number four. This painting is a part of 14 abstract paintings that Richter created for his 1988 show at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, which was a distinct turning point in the artist’s career – he exhibited his works in the same space as some of the most important artists of the late 20th century: Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
Francis Bacon - Three Studies For Self-Portrait, 1980
Another Bacon’s work in this list of top 10 sales during summer is at number three. It is a tryptich called Three Studies For Self-Portrait, that was sold in Sotheby’s London for $20,303,010 (estimated at $15,617,700 – $23,426,550). Executed in 1980, Bacon’s self portraits come in context of deaths of many Bacon’s close friends in that period, starting with George Dyer’s suicide in 1971. In 1975, Francis Bacon said in an interview: I’ve done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint but myself.
Francis Bacon - Self-Portrait, 1975
At number two, there is another Francis Bacon work – another self-portrait, also sold at Sotheby’s London. This Self-portrait was executed in 1975 and it had hammer price of $21,083,895. Unlike Bacon’s self-portraits painted immediately after George Dyer’s death, this one from 1975, and especially that triptych from 1980, depict Bacon much more youthful than he really was. As he grew older, Bacon started and continued to take great care of his appearance – he started dyeing his hair and putting a light makeup to his face.
Andy Warhol - One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate), 1962
Finally, we have came to the number one of our top 10 list. As we’ve mentioned, that Warhol’s Dollar Signs was not the only dollar-sign-motivated artwork on our list – One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) that was executed in 1962 was, by far, the highest sale of summer 2015 when we talk about contemporary art. Sotheby’s had estimated it at $20,303,010 – $28,111,860, and it was sold over high estimate, for $28,892,745, or for $7.8 million more than Bacon’s Self portrait at number two. This hand-painted One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) represents one of the most important Warhol’s work, pivotal for launching his career into the superstardom, uniting most of his motifs – consumption, wealth, celebrity, and glamour.
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All images courtesy of Christie’s and Sotheby’s.