Lucian Freud Leads Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Evening Auction February 2016

Sotheby’s has reported buoyant sales at their latest Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London. Highlights included, Lucian Freud’s Pregnant Girl sold for £16,053,000 / $23,214,243, far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of £7-10m. Pursued by no fewer than six bidders, the starkly intimate depicts the artist’s 17-year-old lover, Bernadine Coverley, asleep and pregnant with their child Bella. 

Coverley was just sixteen when she first met Freud, who himself was 37, in London’s Soho in 1959. They went on to have two children, Bella, a renowned fashion designer, and Esther, an acclaimed novelist. Pregnant Girl opens a window onto a meaningful moment in the lives of both lovers, embodying the tenderness Freud felt for Bernadine, soon to be the mother of his daughters Bella and Esther.

“It must have been a very happy time in her life, being pregnant with the man she loved and him wanting her to be there and paint her”, says their daughter Bella, “I think he was undoubtedly the love of her life.”

Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s Senior International Specialist, Contemporary Art said: “This astonishingly beautiful painting embodies the profound bond between Lucian and the mother of his two daughters. There is arguably no other portrait by Freud that is more gripping, more tender, and more laden with such emotional depth.”

“Tonight we saw a confident art market, punctuated by some real high-points and a depth of bidding. There was much debate about the market ahead of the sale, but in spite of the broader economy, tonight proved that collectors will always compete for works of outstanding quality and rarity.”

-Alex Branczik, Head of Contemporary Art London

London, 10 February 2016 – Tonight, Sotheby’s London Evening Auction of Contemporary Art realised £69,461,000 / $100,447,552 / €89,827,274.

The sale was led by Lucian Freud’s modern-day Venus, “Pregnant Girl” from 1960-1 that sold for £16.1 million / $23.2 million, setting a new record for an early painting by the artist.

The fourth-highest price for the artist at auction (in £)

More than £9 million above the pre-sale low estimate (£7-10 million).

Pursued by no fewer than six bidders, the work is one of the artist’s most tender paintings – a portrait of his lover, the 17-year-old Bernadine Coverley, pregnant with their daughter, the internationally-renowned fashion designer Bella Freud.

Had been in the same collection for 30+ years.

A new record was set for Alberto Burri this evening when “Sacco e Rosso” (c. 1959) sold for £9.1 million / $13.2 million.

Nearly doubling the previous auction record for the artist (£4.7m set in February 2014). Five years ago, Burri’s record was just £1.9m.

This work last sold at auction in 2007 for £1.9m / $3.8m.

A highlight of the 2015 Guggenheim retrospective.

The result now places the market for Burri alongside other post-war Italian contemporary masters: Piero Manzoni’s (rec. £12.6m) and Lucio Fontana (rec. £19.3m).

Pre-sale estimate £9-12 million.

A new record was set for Adrian Ghenie when the colossal van-Gogh inspired “Sunflowers in 1937” (2014) soared over estimate to £3.1 million / $4.5 million.

More than double the previous auction record for the artist (£1.4m set at Sotheby’s, June 2014).

Sotheby’s now holds the top three prices for the artist at auction.

Pre-sale estimate £400,000-600,000.

Depth of bidding across broad range of artists and schools:

Nine bidders (inc. Asian) for Adrain Ghenie’s “Sunflowers in 1937” (see above).

Six bidders (inc. Asian and Russian) for Lucian Freud’s “Pregnant Girl” (see above).

Five bidders for Mike Kelley’s self-portrait work on paper, Visceral Egg (1994). Sold for £245,000 / $354,294 (est. £80,000-120,000).

Five bidders for Günther Förg’s untitled work from 1989. Sold for £389,000 / $562,533 (est. £180,000-220,000). These works have been in exhibitions both at White Cube, London, and Skarstedt Gallery, New York, in 2015.

Four bidders for Gebirge, the first Gerhard Richter mountain scape to come up at auction since 2008. Sold for £1.5 million / $2.2 million (est. £800,000- £1.2 million).

Six bidders for Ai Wei Wei’s iconoclastic photograph “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn”. Sold for £755,000 / $1.1 million (est. £150,000-200,000). Another version of the same photograph featured in the Royal Academy show in 2015. The last time a work from the same edition appeared at auction in 2008, it sold for just under £50,000 – a fifteenth of today’s price.

Artists offered for the first time in London tonight:

Cheyney Thompson: “Chronochrome XIII” from 2009 (the first work by the artist to appear at auction in Europe), sold for an above estimate £197,000 / $284,882 (est. £70,000-90,000) Richard Diebenkorn: an untitled work on paper from 1976 (the first work by the artist to appear at auction in Europe) sold for an above estimate £269,000 / $389,001 (est. £120,000-180,000)

Chung Sang-Hwa: “Untitled 81-5” from 1981-5 (the artist’s first work offered at auction outside Asia) also sold for an above estimate £269,000 / $389,001  (est. £200,000-300,000)

Sale Overview

Pre-sale estimate: £60.2-86.1 million / $87.1-124.5 million

75% of the works offered tonight had never been offered at auction before

Participation from 38 countries (similar to February 2015 sale)

Sell through rate: 78%