New record for Lichtenstein at Sotheby's postwar auction

Wed May 9, 2012 11:47pm EDT
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Roy Lichtenstein's "Sleeping Girl" sold for nearly $45 million on Wednesday, setting a record for the pop artist at Sotheby's $267 million auction of postwar and contemporary art.

The 1964 canvas, executed in the artist's signature, commercially influenced comic-book style, made its high estimate with a hammer price of $40 million. Along with Francis Bacon's "Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror," it achieved the night's top price of $40 million, or $44,882,500 including commission.

The sale, which capped two weeks of sales at Sotheby's and rival Christie's that were marked by numerous records including the most expensive work ever sold at auction, took in $266,591,000, against a pre-sale estimate of $215 million to $304 million. Estimates do not include commission.

Forty-six of the 57 lots on offer found buyers, while three works each sold for more than $35 million, including Andy Warhol's "Double Elvis," which fetched $37 million. Sotheby's had estimated the work to sell for as much as $50 million.

The annual spring sales bore out auction officials' confidence that the art market would maintain its upward climb, defying an unsettled economy as seasoned bidders competed with new collectors for a limited offering of top-quality works.

Bidding at the auction was steady, if selective, and the top-priced works managed to achieve their pre-sale estimates, even if the mood was far from the free-wheeling, record-smashing affair that took hold on Tuesday at Christie's.

Christie's held the most successful postwar art auction in history, setting a record for any postwar work at auction with a $87 million Mark Rothko, and sold 95 percent of its offerings. Records were set for such blue-chip artists as Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein, Gerhard Richter and Alexander Calder.

Sotheby's had its own moment last week, achieving the highest price ever for any art at auction, when Edvard Munch's "The Scream" soared to nearly $120 million.   Continued...

Roy Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl from 1964 is shown in this image released to Reuters on May 9, 2012. Sleeping Girl sold for $44,882,500 setting a new record for the artist at auction (est. $30/40 million). Sleeping Girl is one of the high-points of the Lichtenstein's comic book inspired paintings and an icon of Post-War American art that has not appeared on the market since it was purchased by noted West Coast collectors and philanthropists Beatrice and Phillip Gersh, from the Ferus Gallery in 1964. REUTERS/Sotheby's/Handout