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Unicredit’s HVB May Make $9.9 Million by Sale of Klein Painting

The 1961 Yves Klein sponge relief, "RE 49, Relief Eponge Bleu," was estimated at 4.5 million pounds to 6.5 million pounds at Sotheby's June 28 auction of contemporary art in London. The work, entered from the collection of HVB Group, the German banking unit of UniCredit SpA, was bought by one of three telephone bidders for 6.2 million pounds. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

UniCredit SpA’s German banking unit may make as much as 6.5 million pounds ($9.9 million) by the auction of a 1961 Yves Klein painting.

HVB Group is selling the French conceptual artist’s blue “sponge relief,’’ titled “RE 49, Relief Eponge Bleu.’’ The work is 4 feet high (1.2 meters) and has a lower estimate of 4.5 million pounds in Sotheby’s June 28 sale of contemporary art in London, the New York-based auction house said today in an e-mailed statement.

“The majority of the highest prices ever paid for the artist at auction have been for Relief Eponge works,’’ Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s European-based chairman of contemporary art, said in the statement. “We expect that this exquisite example of his output, which last appeared on the open market over 15 years ago, will stir considerable interest among collectors and connoisseurs of Klein’s work.’’

Banks are reorganizing collections as values of classic contemporary pieces by 1950s and 1960s artists such as Klein and Lucio Fontana remain more stable than those of fashionable names such as Damien Hirst, dealers said. Prices of Hirst and Koons works fell by up to 50 percent during the financial crisis.

A larger, 5-foot 5-inch-high blue sponge relief, dating from 1960, sold for $21.4 million -- the second-highest auction price ever paid for Klein -- at Sotheby’s, New York, in November 2008.

Adjusting Collection

“In order to adjust the collection for the future, we will continue to acquire works from promising young artists and will exhibit them publicly,’’ Baerbel Kopplin, curator of HVB’s art collection, said in the statement.

Unicredit, Italy’s biggest bank, acquired Munich-based HVB in 2005 in a transaction worth about 15.3 billion euros ($20.2 billion).

Sotheby’s June contemporary-art auction in London will also include an example of one of Fontana’s monumental egg-shaped “La Fine di Dio” (End of God) canvases. Painted in emerald green in 1963, it has been entered from a private European collection with an estimate of 4.5 million pounds to 5.5 million pounds. In February 2001, the painting sold for a low estimate 465,750 pounds at Christie’s London, according to art database Artnet.

Green is regarded by some collectors as a less desirable color for a Fontana. A gold “Fine di Dio” also from 1963 sold for a record 10.3 million pounds at Sotheby’s in February 2008.

Buyers spent more than 16 million pounds ($24.2 million) on works by Klein at February’s contemporary-art auctions in London, according to figures compiled by Christie’s International.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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