Sotheby's sees record London contemporary art sale despite Bacon failure

Wed Jul 1, 2015 6:48pm EDT
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Andy Warhol's "One Dollar", the first in his dollar bill series, fetched 20.9 million pounds ($32.4 million) at Sotheby's on Wednesday, the top-seller in what the auction house said was its highest ever total sales for an auction of contemporary art in London.

However, the auction's star attraction, Francis Bacon's "Study for a Pope I", which had been estimated at 25 to 35 million pounds, went unsold after bids failed to reach the reserve price.

"It wasn't the night for that one picture," said Oliver Barker, Sotheby's senior international specialist in contemporary art.

As a result, overall sales at the auction came in at just over 130 million pounds, below the pre-sale low estimate of 142 million pounds.

Despite the Bacon disappointment, Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby's co-head of contemporary art, said the auction house had seen sales of more than half a billion pounds in recent weeks in London, establishing the British capital as an art hub to rival New York.

Last week, Sotheby's saw sales of 178.6 million pounds at one auction in London, with 10 of the 51 lots selling for more than 10 million pounds, while on Tuesday an auction of post war and contemporary art at Christie's totaled 95.6 million pounds.

The soaring sums come after two weeks of sales in New York in May brought in well over $2 billion at both houses.

Wednesday's Sotheby's auction was dominated by eight works by Warhol, inspired by the U.S. dollar and with the American pop artist 's 1962 hand-painted "One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate)" exceeding its top of estimate of 18 million pounds to reach 20.9 million.   Continued...

Employee's poses as they hold 'Silver Certificate' by Andy Warhol at Sotheby's auction house in London June 8, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville