• Sotheby's auctions former chairman's $500 million collection
  • Stakes are high as auction house financed guarantee to estate

A Frank Stella painting fetched $13.7 million at Sotheby’s, setting an auction record for the American artist as the sale of works owned by the company’s former chairman gets under way.

"Delaware Crossing" by Stella
"Delaware Crossing" by Stella
Source: Sotheby’s New York

Stella’s 1961 painting “Delaware Crossing” came early during Sotheby’s auction in New York on Wednesday that is culled from the collection of A. Alfred Taubman, who died in April. The sale is important to Sotheby’s since it won the consignment by using its own money to provide the Taubman estate a record $500 million guarantee on the auction of more than 500 artworks.

“The stakes are extremely high,” Kristine Koerber, a senior analyst at Barrington Research, said in an Oct. 20 report. “We have never seen this level of guarantees for one auction and/or a collection.”

The estimated presale value for the entire sale, which is continuing, is $374.8 million to $526.5 million.

Multiple Bidders

Multiple bidders pursued the Stella painting, pushing the final price past its estimate of $8 million to $12 million. The result smashed the 79-year-old artist’s previous auction record of $6.7 million achieved in May 2014. A retrospective of Stella’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art opened last week, the first solo retrospective in the museum’s new home in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

Stella’s painting is a red square -- about 6.5-foot-tall and 6.5-foot-wide -- made with red Benjamin Moore house paint. Its monochrome surface is interrupted by four sequences of white right angles which grow in size from the corners to the center.

The work is part of a group of six paintings, each done in a different primary or secondary color. The house paint refers to the period in 1958 when Stella moved to New York and supported himself mainly by painting apartments, according to Sotheby’s catalog.

"Portrait de Paulette Jourdain" by Amedeo Modigliani.
"Portrait de Paulette Jourdain" by Amedeo Modigliani.
Source: Sotheby’s New York

Sotheby’s “Masterworks” sale has 77 lots including paintings by Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko. The event kicks off 10 days of semiannual bellwether auctions in New York. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips expect to sell more than $2.1 billion of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art.

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