November 9, 2005
Rothko painting breaks record at Christie’s
By Christopher Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Christie's sale of post-war and
contemporary art met its advance billing as the biggest auction
of its kind on Tuesday, with a Mark Rothko oil painting setting
a new world record of $22.4 million for any post-war work at
Francis Bacon and several others, as the auction house achieved
the highest total for the increasingly lucrative post-war and
contemporary market, selling $157.4 million. That exceeded the
presale high-end estimate of $145 million.
Christie's honorary chairman Christopher Burge, who served
as the evening's auctioneer, said the bidding at all price
levels was "incredibly buoyant."
"We had a record number of records," Burge said.
The sale included 18 new records among the 40 artists
included in the sale. Rothko sets records for both his painting
and a work on paper.
Only four of the 70 lots on offer failed to sell.
Christie's had said before the auction that it anticipated
a high total sale because an unusual amount of high-quality art
had come onto the market, and said afterward the strong prices
reflected a "very broad and deep market."
The sale's star was Rothko's 1954 oil-on-canvas "Homage to
Matisse." It was the only abstract-expressionist piece by the
artist, who died in 1970, to carry a title.
The large-scale work consisted of contrasting monolithic
blocks in red, yellow and blue. Its sale price of $22.4 million
included the auction house's commission, beating its high
estimate of $20 million.
It also eclipsed the old mark for a Rothko by more than $5
million, as well as that of any post-war work by nearly $2
Lichtenstein's "In the Car," sold for $16.2 million,
beating the high estimate of $15 million and the old record for
a Lichtenstein of $7.16 million, set in 2002. The painting was
offered by the late pop artist's son, Mitchell.
The third-highest priced item was a Willem de Kooning
untitled work from 1977, which fell well short of the artist's
record of $20.7 million and sold for $10.66 million, far above
the high estimate of $6 million.
Bacon's "Study for a Pope I" saw yet another artist's mark
fall, fetching $10.1 million.
More records fell when works by David Smith, Elizabeth
Peyton, Hans Hofmann, Robert Indiana, Richard Prince, Gilbert &
George, Christopher Wool, Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria,
Alice Neel, Bill Viola and Kiki Smith hit the block. New marks
were also set for works on paper by Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha and
The semi-annual sales, which have been enjoying especially
strong results, wrap up on Wednesday with Sotheby's auction of
contemporary and post-war art.