Six Richter Paintings Push Sotheby’s London Sale to $80 Million

"Abstraktes Bild" (1992) by Gerhard Richter. It was one of 6 works by the German artist included in Sotheby's auction of contemporary art in London on Feb. 15, 2012 and sold for 4.9 million pounds ($7.7 million) with fees. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Six paintings by Gerhard Richter sold last night at auction for a total of almost $30 million, confirming his status as the most bankable living artist, dealers said.

The German painter’s works pushed the Sotheby’s London contemporary-art sale to an $80 million total as investment-minded buyers were attracted by rising prices and a relatively plentiful supply of quality works.

Sellers of Richter, who was recently the subject of a retrospective at London’s Tate Modern, have been encouraged by the performance of a group of eight abstracts at Sotheby’s in New York on Nov. 9, which all sold above upper estimates.

“After the buzz of that collection, people were keen to cash in,” said Heinrich zu Hohenlohe, director of the Berlin branch of the dealership Dickinson. “There’s a lot of Richter out there, and the market seems able to absorb it. He produces paintings that appeal to every kind of taste and there are buyers coming in from all over the world. They think art is a good place to be at the moment.”

Last night’s top price was 4.9 million pounds ($7.7 million) with fees, paid for the 1992 “Abstraktes Bild (768-4),” featuring vertical waves of black and white paint. Fresh to the auction market, it was bought by Georgina Macpherson, head of Sotheby’s London-based client services department, for a private telephone bidder against an upper estimate of 4 million pounds.

Frozen Seascape

The 1981 photorealist painting “Eis (Ice),” showing a desolate expanse of frozen seascape, was sold to Sotheby’s London-based specialist Olivia Thornton, acting for another phone buyer, at 4.3 million pounds, a record for a landscape by the artist, the auction house said. All the Richters attracted multiple bids and their final total with fees was more than 7 million pounds more than the low estimate, based on hammer prices.

In last November’s New York sale, a 1997 “Abstraktes Bild” in purple, red and blue was bought by the London-based collector Lily Safra for a record $20.8 million.

At last night’s Sotheby’s auction 57 of the 63 lots successfully found buyers. Still, it lacked any lots valued at more than 5 million pounds, unlike the equivalent 80.6 million-pound event at Christie’s International the previous evening, where a 1994 Richter abstract sold for 9.9 million pounds.

Sotheby’s total of 50.7 million pounds with fees was slightly above the high estimate of 48 million pounds. Buyers hailed from 20 different countries, the auction house said.

“If interest rates remain low, prices will keep rising,” the Montreal-based collector Francois Odermatt said in an interview. “People aren’t making any money on deposit and when there’s a financial crisis, they want art assets. I just wish I’d bought Richter when they were more affordable.”

Orange Basquiat

Five bidders contested the 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting “Orange Sports Figure,” before it was bought by Sotheby’s New York-based specialist Scott Nussbaum, representing a client on the telephone, for 4.1 million pounds against an estimate of 3 million pounds to 4 million pounds.

The work, entered by a European collector, was of a prime date by the artist whose paintings are becoming increasingly scarce, dealers said.

Growing demand from Asia was underlined by the 1.8 million pounds and 1.6 million pounds respectively paid by telephone bidders for colorful 1990s abstract paintings by the Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki. Both works sold for double their high estimates.

Freud Interest

Sellers were also keen to benefit from the interest in Lucian Freud generated by the current exhibition at the London National Portrait Gallery and accompanying dealer shows.

Five drawings and a painting by the artist, who died last year, were included in the sale, ranging in value from a low estimate of 100,000 pounds for a 1983 drawing of horse’s head to an upper valuation of 2 million pounds for a 1955 head-and-shoulders portrait of a man.

The painting failed to sell, and a top price of 735,650 pounds was instead paid by the London dealer Matthew Green for a 1985 charcoal portrait of the lawyer Lord Goodman. This had been estimated at 400,000 to 600,000 pounds.

“Freud is more of a local market than Richter and the market can’t absorb as much material,” zu Hohenlohe said.

(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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