LONDON (Reuters) - The auction record for a work by British artist Stanley Spencer fell twice in one sale at Sotheby's on Wednesday, while a Lucian Freud picture on paper also set a new high.
Seven works by Spencer, described by the auctioneer as one of the 20th century's most important British painters, were on offer at the first section of a three-part sale of the Evill/Frost Collection.
They made a total of 23.0 million pounds ($37.6 million), including a record 4.7 million pounds for "Workmen in the House," which was eclipsed minutes later by the 5.4 million pounds paid for "Sunflower and Dog Worship."
The first work had been expected to go under the hammer for 1.5-2.0 million pounds and the second for 1.0-1.5 million. The final sale price includes the buyer's premium, where as pre-sale estimates do not.
Overall the auction raised 37.5 million pounds ($61.2 million), well over double the pre-sale high estimate of 16 million pounds. Eight auction records were set in total and every lot found a buyer.
The paintings once belonged to solicitor Wilfrid Evill, who bought his first painting in 1925, and are considered by experts to make up the greatest collection of modern British art ever assembled.
Analysts argue that the sector has been undervalued relative to other art periods and styles which have seen spectacular gains in the last 18 months.
Much of Evill's estate passed to his ward Honor Frost, an artist and underwater archeologist who died last year aged 92.
As well as the Spencer records, a Lucian Freud work on paper "Boy on a Sofa" fetched 1.5 million pounds compared with expectations of 400-600,000 pounds. It was a new auction record for a work on paper by the veteran British painter.
The Evill/Frost auction continues on Thursday with Parts 2 and 3.
Last month, Sotheby's rival Christie's set an auction record for a work by another prominent British painter Laurence Stephen Lowry when "The Football Match" sold for 5.6 million pounds.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; editing by Patricia Reaney