A Lucian Freud life-sized nude sold for US$33.64 million at Christie’s art auction on Tuesday, the highest price ever paid at auction for the work of a living artist.
The British painter’s 1995 portrait of a nude woman sleeping on a sofa, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, sold for just under its high presale estimate of US$35 million to an anonymous buyer calling in by telephone.
The previous record of US$23.6 million was set last November for a Jeff Koons sculpture, Hanging Heart.
The Freud painting is nicknamed Big Sue after its subject, London civil servant Sue Tilley, now 51, who received £20 (now US$39) a day for her side job of posing in the buff.
Freud, 85, is considered one of the world’s most important contemporary artists. He was born in 1922 in Berlin and fled the Nazi regime with his family in 1933 to Britain.
Contemporary art sold strongly, defying erratic financial markets at a US$350 million auction marked by a surprising preponderance of American buying.
Records fell for seven other artists as well.
“It was stupendous,” said Christie’s contemporary and postwar art international co-head Amy Cappellazzo, adding that it was Christie’s second-best contemporary result.
The sale’s total was just above the midrange of its presale estimate.
“So much for the weak dollar,” Cappellazzo said after the auction.
US buyers snapped up 70 percent of the US$348,263,600 worth of art sold, while Europeans bought nearly all the rest.
“We didn’t expect the dominance of Americans in this sale,” contemporary art co-head Brett Gorvy said.
A week ago, US buyers accounted for less than a third of the auction house’s Impressionist and modern art total.
The solid results, in which 95 percent of the 57 lots on offer found buyers, brought palpable relief. Some auction officials had privately expressed fears the spring sales could mark the beginnings of a market downturn.
Mark Rothko’s No. 15 fetched US$50.44 million including commission, far above its US$40 million presale estimate.
Warhol’s large-scale silkscreen Double Marlon of actor Marlon Brando from The Wild One went for US$32.5 million, while other Warhols also sold well.
“The highest quality is where the greatest number of collectors are competing,” Gorvy said.
Nine works sold for well above US$10 million each, including an unusual offering, Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House, a Palm Springs mid-century modern home that was included in the auction and sold for US$16.84 million.
Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Self-Portrait was another top lot, fetching just over US$28 million, or nearer its low estimate, but Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild soared to US$14.6 million, far above its US$10 million high estimate.