Auctioneers eye $1 billion takings in London's summer art sales

Fri Jun 19, 2015 7:25am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - With an Atlantic tailwind from May auctions in New York in which the two biggest auction houses sold more than $2 billion of art, eyes are focused on major sales beginning next week in London that may see prices soar again to dizzying heights.

The big winner in New York was Picasso's "Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')" which set the record at $179.4 million at Christie's for the most expensive artwork ever sold.

In three days of sales Christie's also became the first auction house to sell more than $1 billion worth of art. Adding in Sotheby's sales, the total topped $2 billion.

"We've entered into a phase which I really think is a masterpiece market," Christie's Katharine Arnold, who is running the post-war and contemporary art evening sale on June 30, said. Featuring paintings by Francis Bacon, Yves Klein and Gerhard Richter, the 76 lots are estimated to fetch $132-187 million.

Not to be outdone, Sotheby's is heralding its July 1 evening sale as "London's highest valued auction of contemporary art".

Pre-sale estimates for Sotheby's 59 lots range from $230 million to $329 million and featured works include Bacon's "Study for a Pope I", valued at $40 million to $56 million, and a series of Andy Warhol "dollar" paintings.

Combined with both houses offering effectively truckloads of paintings by Chagall, Picasso, Manet, Monet, Gauguin and even a rare Klimt at modern and impressionist art auctions kicking off at Christie's on June 23, there is every chance total sales could top $1 billion, experts say.

Arnold said the skyrocketing prices for fine art being fetched at auction were bringing more such works to market.   Continued...

A visitor passes by "Study for a Pope I" by Francis Bacon at Sotheby's in London, Britain June 19, 2015. The painting is estimated to earn US $36.5-51.1M (25-35M GB pounds) when it goes on auction July 1 in London. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett