Basquiat’s Price Soars Fivefold as $320 Million Auctions Start

"Self-Portrait" by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The 1985 acrylic-on-wood painting was included in a 32-lot auction of contemporary works held by Phillips de Pury & Co. at Claridge's Hotel, London, on June 27. Source: Phillips de Pury & Co. via Bloomberg

A Jean-Michel Basquiat self-portrait sold last night as London started a week of contemporary-art events that include evening auctions with a top estimate of 200 million pounds ($320 million) and the Masterpiece fair.

The Basquiat, dating from 1985 and featuring a half-length self-portrait next to a wooden panel covered in bottle tops, fetched 2.1 million pounds ($3.4 million) at Phillips de Pury & Co.’s first contemporary sale at Claridge’s in Mayfair. The price was five times the $647,500 it fetched at Phillips de Pury, New York, in 2003.

Auction houses are optimistic about this latest round of offerings after dealers reported many sales in the $200,000 to $2 million-range this month at Art Basel, Switzerland, showing a return to 2007 levels of demand. Phillips also hoped to benefit by its sale location: its Victoria base has proved too remote for some collectors, dealers said.

“Claridge’s is a prestigious venue with better access,’’ New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe said. “It’s intimate, which makes people bid more. And the market has improved.’’

The 31-lot sale in Claridge’s ballroom, attended by 200 people, came after Phillips leased a 750-square-foot (69 square meter) gallery in the Art Deco hotel’s Brook Street frontage.

The Basquiat was one of five works with minimum bids by third party guarantors. It fell to the guarantor, bidding by phone, for slightly more than the 2-million-pound low estimate.

Success Rate

The sale raised 11.2 million pounds with fees, against an estimate of 10 million pounds to 14.5 million pounds, based on hammer prices. Eighty-seven percent of the lots sold. The equivalent event last year made 4 million pounds with a success rate of 53 percent. Phillips’s sale of 269 more affordable works works today will, however, be offered in Victoria.

Also today, Christie’s International’s evening sale will include the 1953 Francis Bacon painting “Study for a Portrait,” estimated at 11 million pounds. Sotheby’s auction the following evening will include 35 lots from the Duerckheim collection of German art, which is estimated to raise as much as 47.5 million pounds in total.

The second annual Masterpiece London fair will preview tomorrow. The event, showcasing high-end art, antiques and luxury goods, will take place at the South Grounds, Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Marlborough Fine Art, Vacheron & Constantin SA and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars will be among the 150 exhibitors.

Bidding remained measured at Phillips, with buyers reluctant to spend more than $2 million. Mark Tansey’s 1994 painting “Library (of Babylon),’’ a 16-foot-wide canvas featuring Piranesi-style prison scenes, was another guaranteed work. It sold for a low-estimate 1.2 million pounds, and like the Basquiat, it fell to the guarantor’s telephone bid.

In a sign of growing demand for South American art, a phone bidder paid a record 713,250 pounds for the flowery 2002 abstract “O Moderno’’ by Brazilian painter Beatriz Milhazes.

New York collector Jose Mugrabi paid 690,850 pounds, near the low estimate, for the 2008 Damien Hirst butterfly painting “Confession.’’

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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