Clapton’s Richter Fetches $34 Million, 30 Times Purchase

Gerhard Richter
"Abstraktes Bild (809-4)," (1994) by Gerhard Richter. The painting was sold by the rock guitarist Eric Clapton in a Sotheby's "Frieze Week" auction of contemporary works in London for 21.3 million pounds ($34.2 million) -- more than 30 times what Clapton paid for it in 2001. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A Gerhard Richter painting owned by Eric Clapton sold last night for a record 21.3 million pounds ($34.2 million) -- more than 30 times what he paid for it in 2001.

The 1994 oil-on-canvas “Abstraktes Bild (809-4)” was sold by Sotheby’s in London for its “Frieze Week” auction of contemporary artworks with an estimate of 9 million pounds to 12 million pounds. The buyer was Natasha Mendelsohn of Sotheby’s, acting for a client on the telephone. She was underbid by her colleague Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, also taking instructions for a client.

“People are still ready to pay top prices for great paintings,” Christophe Van de Weghe, a New York dealer, said in an interview. “While the market is selective, the Clapton provenance made a difference. It could have added as much as 20 percent to the price.”

The predominantly red, dark blue and yellow abstract was one of three Richters bought by the U.K.-born guitarist for $3.4 million at Sotheby’s New York in November 2001. At the time, this was an auction record for a lot containing abstracts by the German artist, with each worth about a third of the figure. Last night's sale was both a record for Richter at auction and for a living artist at auction.

Richter, 80, who works in Cologne in both figurative and abstract idioms, has become the world’s most bankable living artist, dealers said. His highly decorative abstractions, often painted with a squeegee, have become particularly sought-after by wealthy international collectors and set seven of the 10 highest prices paid for the artist at auction.

Rising Richter

When Clapton bought his painting, the average auction price of a Richter work was $461,910, according to the database Artnet.

Values have been boosted by the critical and popular success of recent retrospectives at Tate Modern, London, and the Pompidou Center, Paris, dealers said.

The previous auction record for the artist was the $21.8 million for the 1993 “Abstraktes Bild (798-3)” at Christie’s International, New York, in May.

(Clapton is active in the auction market and is also selling a watch. His 1987 platinum Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph with moon phases is up for sale at Christie’s in Geneva on Nov. 12, valued at 4 million Swiss francs, or $4.27 million.)

Two lots after the Richter, the 1961 Yves Klein blue sponge painting, “RE 9-I,” valued at 2 million pounds to 3 million pounds, sold for 3.7 million pounds. The buyer was Greek collector Dmitri Mavromatis, dealers said.

Sale Figures

Last night’s Sotheby’s contemporary-art sale raised 44.1 million pounds with fees with 89 percent of 53 lots successful. The total beat a high estimate of 39.4 million pounds at hammer prices.

The previous evening, Christie’s raised 23 million pounds with fees from 61 lots of contemporary art, 74 percent of which found buyers. Two large-scale photographs by Andreas Gursky and two sculptures by Paul McCarthy, usually Frieze Week favorites, failed to sell against valuations of about $1 million each.

“There were obvious brand names at Christie’s, not great works,” Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the London-based Fine Art Fund, said in an interview.

The star lot of the evening was the 1992 Martin Kippenberger self-portrait “Untitled (from the series Hand-Painted Pictures),” which sold to an unidentified bidder in the room for a record 3.2 million pounds.

Tate’s Kippenberger

Entered by a private European collector and never sold at auction before, the painting had been included at Kippenberger retrospectives at Tate Modern, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2006 and 2009 respectively. It had been estimated at 2.5 million pounds to 3.5 million pounds.

Meanwhile, steady, if not runaway business was being reported by galleries exhibiting at the 10th-anniversary Frieze and other events. Dealers were expecting further sales from collectors flying to London for the weekend before next week’s FIAC fair in Paris.

Unlike the boom years of 2006 and 2007, collectors haven’t had to run round Frieze to snap up the latest works by the hottest artists; nor were dealers having to restock their booths after a sell-out VIP private view.

A 2012 blue-fiberglass circular sculpture by Anish Kapoor was still available for sale, priced 800,000 pounds, on the booth of the Lisson Gallery the day after the Oct. 10 preview.

Gagosian’s Hirst

Gagosian, which doesn’t discuss sales or prices, had re-hung predominantly the same selection of works by artists such as Damien Hirst, Rudolf Stingel and Jenny Saville that it had shown the previous day. The gallery sold $45 million of big-ticket works on the first day of Art Basel 2011, according to dealers.

New works priced at less than $100,000 continue to be the mainstay of Frieze. Typical of the event’s recipe for success were the four 2012 constructions by the Brazilian sculptor Fernanda Gomes sold by the London-based dealer Alison Jacques on the first two days. Prices ranged from $18,000 to $35,000.

Bigger numbers predominated at the inaugural Frieze Masters fair further north in Regent’s Park. The Zurich-based David Koetser Gallery is one of several Old Master picture dealers hoping for “crossover” sales from collectors of contemporary art.

“Four or five of my clients have bought their Richters and Kapoors and are struggling to find the right quality from emerging artists,” said Annabel Thomas, a London-based art adviser who is collaborating with Koetser for Frieze Masters. “They’re now looking at Old Masters and medieval art.”

Packing Case

Koetser sold an austere still life of fruit by the 17th-century Dutch artist Adriaen Coorte, priced at $3.7 million. To give it a 21st-century twist, the dealer presented the canvas “framed” in its packing case.

The buyer is non-European and an “avid collector of modern and contemporary art,” according to Annemarie van der Hoeven, a gallery spokeswoman.

London-based dealer Sam Fogg also reported “crossover” trade at Frieze Masters. Fogg sold a Flemish early-16th-century painting of the Virgin and Child to a contemporary-art collector for 200,000 pounds and a medieval bronze of the crucified Christ to an artist for 30,000 pounds.

There were also significant sales at the Pavilion of Art and Design in Berkeley Square. By the third day of this commercially-situated boutique fair, the London-based dealer Luxembourg & Dayan had sold seven out of the eight new Chinese Pop-style “Panda” paintings by Rob Pruitt it was offering priced at $120,000 each.

Paris-based Galerie Downtown, which specializes in modernist furniture by designers such as Jean Prouve and Charlotte Perriand, had sold 80 percent of its booth on the second day. Jewelry dealer Laurence Graff was spotted among its buyers at the Oct. 9 preview.

(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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