Sotheby’s: A year to remember

2012 will not be a year easily forgotten, especially for Sotheby’s, which has enjoyed, by far, one of the most exhilarating periods of business this side of the global financial crisis.
Let us start with The Scream. Edvard Munch’s expressionist masterpiece positively smashed the record books when it sold for an immense $119.9 million (approximately £73.9 million).
This made it, not for nothing, the highest ever price paid for a work of art at auction, setting a new standard. It still falls somewhat short of the private sale of Paul Cezanne’s silent tour de force, which went for £158.4 million in 2011, but that is beside the point.
What this sale reflects is that the art market has the kind of vigour – swagger even – that most people in the business could not possibly have expected. Sure, there is an enviable amount of energy in the art world that defies today’s stuttering economic environment, but for it to be this good…well, let the good times keep rolling.
Sotheby’s also witnessed two equally tremendous sales on a similar par to Munch’s pastel version of his iconic painting. There was the highest price paid for a drawing and a new record set for a work by a living artist.
The former was Raphael’s Head of a Young Apostle, which went for an astonishing £29.7 million. The mesmeric sketch was described by Cristiana Romalli – senior director in the Department of Old Master Drawings at Sotheby’s – as a moving study indicative of the Italian artist’s ability to elegantly compose brilliant images.
As for the latter, Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (809-4) realised £21.3 million, eclipsing the New York sale of Jasper John’s Flag, which went for £17.8 million in 2010. The auction house referred to the colourful work of art as a “masterpiece of calculated chaos”.
“The combination of outstanding provenance and gold-standard quality in this sublime work by this blue-chip artist made for an historic auction moment,” commented Alex Branczik, senior director at the auction house and head of the sale, in the autumn. “Gerhard Richter’s international appeal as one of the hottest contemporary artists was once again confirmed this evening.”
Other strong prices achieved by Sotheby’s in 2012 included Jackson Pollock’s Number 4 (£25.5 million) and Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl (£27.8 million) in the contemporary category.
Impressionist and modern highlights consisted of the £23.6 million sale of Joan Miro’s Peinture (Étoile Bleue), while for Old Masters, Willem van de Velde the Younger’s The Surrender of the Royal Prince during the Four Days’ Battle was picked up for a very good £5.3 million.