Two works break $50 million barrier at Christie's $448 million contemporary sale

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Works by Francis Bacon and Cy Twombly each sold for more than $50 million at Christie’s on Wednesday, helping drive a $448 million sale of contemporary art that met expectations in an uncertain market.

The auction marked the second solid result this week for Christie’s, which on Monday sold $289 million in Impressionist and modern art, helping reassure a jittery market following recent seasons where owners were reluctant to open their vaults and consign top-tier works.

Of the 71 lots on offer virtually all found buyers, with only three going unsold. The sale’s total nipped at the high pre-sale estimate of $463 million.

Officials called the result robust, and provided evidence of “the great results you get for exceptional masterpieces,” as Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkänen, who also served as auctioneer, put it.

Pylkkänen reiterated the contention from officials at both Christie’s and rival Sotheby’s that works fresh to the market and of the highest quality achieved the strongest prices, adding another factor - “demand is effectively outstripping supply.”

Bidding at the sale, which was marked by strong American bidding and buying, was solid, if measured, short of the free-wheeling spending that marked sales from roughly 2011 to 2015 which saw spiking prices and nearly continuous record breaking.

The sale’s top lot was Cy Twombly’s “Leda and the Swan,” which sold for $52.9 million including commission of just over 12 percent, against an estimate of $35 million to $55 million.

Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer,” a 1963 triptych, fetched $51.8 million, at the very lowest end of its $50 million to $70 million estimate.

“It was what the market wanted to pay,” Pylkkänen said.

Other highlights included Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “La Hara,” which handily beat the high estimate of $28 million to sell for just under $35 million.

Works by pop artists Andy Warhol - one of his iconic Campbell’s soup cans - and Roy Lichtenstein, each estimated to fetch $25 million to $35 million, achieved $27.5 million and $28.2 million respectively.

Another Warhol, “Last Supper,” soared to $18.7 million, more than double the $8 million high estimate.

The auctions wrap up on Thursday with Sotheby’s contemporary sale, featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat’s untitled work from 1982, last auctioned in 1984 for a mere $19,000 but now expected to reap more than $60 million, setting it up to break the artist’s $57.3 million record set just a year ago.

Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Richard Pullin