Christie's Defining British Art auction tops $133 million in London
Christie's has celebrated its 250th anniversary in style, with a record-breaking auction of British art in London this week.
The Defining British Art: Evening Sale featured major works spanning four centuries of art history, and realized a final total of £99,479,500 ($133,203,051).
Leading the sale was 'Reclining Figure: Festival', a masterpiece by the sculptor Henry Moore originally commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Described as "arguably his most masterful and elegant sculptural synthesis of form and space", Moore's sculpture had spent the past 50 years in a private U.S collection, and exceeded its top estimate to sell for £24,722,500 ($33,103,428), setting a new world record for the artist at auction.
One of the most important works on offer was 'View on the Stour near Dedham' by John Constable, the last of his celebrated six-foot 'sketches' remaining in private hands. Described as "a work of genius", the large-scale painting sold at auction for the first time since 1883 for £14,082,500 ($18,856,468), the second-highest auction price ever achieved by a Constable work.
Also realizing an eight-figure sum was Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe by Francis Bacon. Painted in 1968, and regarded as one of the greatest works from his finest period, the painting sold for £20,242,500 ($27,104,708).
The wide spectrum of the sale was epitomised by two works, created a century apart, which each fetched world record prices.
First was Golden Hours, "a masterpiece of aesthetic art" painted in 1864, by Frederic, Lord Leighton, offered at auction for the first time in a century and sold for £3,274,500 ($4,384,556).
It was then followed by Untitled (Diagonal Curve), an early work by Bridget Riley created in 1966. As a stunning example of Riley's influential Op Art, the work – which preceded her landmark Venice International Painting Prize victory by two years – sold for £4,338,500 ($5,809,252).
Further notable highlights included Portrait of Lucy Long, Mrs George Hardinge by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which sold for £3,778,500 ($5,059,412); H.M. the Queen and Aureole in the Paddock at Epsom before the Coronation Cup by Sir Alfred James Munnings, which fetched £2,098,500 ($2,809,892); and A Girl (Pauline Tennant) by Lucian Freud which sold for £2,322,500 ($3,109,828).
"We saw global participation tonight with strong bidding from the Americas and are very pleased with establishing so many artist world records in this sale that celebrated British art and our long relationship with artists and collectors," said Jussi Pylkkänen, Global President and lead auctioneer.
"We thank all our clients, vendors and buyers, past, present or future, for entrusting us now and over the centuries with the safe passage of precious and historic objects – from one country to another, and from one generation to its successor."
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