LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A major work by British artist Damien Hirst made less money than expected at Christie's contemporary art sale in London Thursday, but the auction overall came in within pre-sale estimates.
"I am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds," an intricate butterfly pattern which measures some five meters across, sold for 2.2 million pounds ($3.5 million) including buyer's premium.
The pre-sale expectation was 2.5-3.5 million pounds not including the premium.
The work is one of the most important to go under the hammer during this season's post-war and contemporary auctions in London.
Hirst held a one-man auction at Christie's rival Sotheby's in 2008 on the eve of the Lehman Brothers collapse, and went on to stun the art world by raising $193 million.
But it was to prove the peak of the art market boom, and 2009 saw values and volumes plunge as collectors fretted about the broader economy and owners kept their art off the market awaiting higher prices.
The recovery has begun in 2010, but contemporary art values remain well below the levels of 2007 and 2008.
Christie's sold post-war and contemporary art worth 19.6 million pounds Thursday, including buyers' premiums. Pre-sale expectations were 16.0-22.7 million pounds without premiums.
The highlight of the night came in the Italian auction held on the same night.
Marino Marini's equestrian bronze "Cavaliere" fetched 4.5 million pounds ($7.1 million), around three times expectations and a world record auction price for the artist.
It helped boost the Italian sale total to a record 18.6 million pounds, also within estimates.
Sotheby's follows with its main sales Friday evening.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Patricia Reaney