Brave new world: Francis Bacon triptych sells for $84.5m in Sotheby’s first major live-streamed evening sale

Auctioneer Oliver Barker takes bids from phones and online bidders Courtesy of Christie's

A lot was riding on Sothebys marquee evening auctions, held entirely online and live-streamed from Hong Kong, London and New York for a gruelling four-and-a-half hours last night. This was the first major public test of the high-end international art market since the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

As fatigued staff finally tallied up the totals, the firm was right to talk about success: overall, the sales racked up an impressive $363.2m (with fees), nudging the upper end of the presale target range of $262.1m to $368.4m (calculated without fees). Lot after lot scored well, including Royal Fireworks, a blazing orange-hued canvas from 1975 by Helen Frankenthaler from the 18-lot Ginny Williams collection, which opened the evening. It rocketed over expectations of $2m-$3m to make $7.9m (with fees), more than doubling the previous high for the artist.

Everything about the sale was innovative. The first major evening sale to be held entirely online, it featured auctioneer Oliver Barker alone in a curved booth, filmed in London, fielding bids from banks of screens in front of him. Those screens showed the specialists in the three cities, spaced out in tiered stands and signalling their bids to Barker; online bidders were also active.

Remedios Varo's Armonía (Autorretrato sugerente, 1956), sold for a record $6.1m (with fees) Courtesy of Sotheby's

The three sales, held consecutively, comprised the 100%-guaranteed Ginny Williams material (nine lots were also given last-minute irrevocable bids), followed by 30 lots of contemporary art and ending with 28 Impressionist and Modern works of art. Overall 93.2% by lot was sold, and the sale twice broke the record for a work of art offered online: Joan Mitchells Garden Party (1961-62) made $7.9m and Jean-Michel Basquiats Untitled (1982), racked up $15.2m. (Pre-sale estimates do not include fees; totals do.)

In the contemporary art section, the strangest moment was the battle for the evenings headline lot, Francis Bacons Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981), a major work being sold by the Norwegian Hans Rasmus Astrup. After $60m, an online bidder from China appeared, adding increments of just $100,000 and slowing the auction to an agonising snails pace in the process. It took 10 minutes for the work to be hammered down for $74m ($84.55m with fees, within the pre-sale estimate of $60m-$80m), with Sothebys Grégoire Billault finally prevailing. According to the industry newsletter Baer Faxt, the work was not fresh to the market, having been offered around for several years, initially at $120m.

It was a good evening for women artists, with new price highs set for Vija Celmins, Leonor Fini, Helen Frankenthaler and Alice Rahon, and for works from the Hunk and Mary Anderson collection. Ten abstracts accumulated by the businessman made $66.3m including a rare Clyfford Still, PH-144 (1947-Y-No.1) (1947), which made $28.7m.

Francis Bacon's Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus Courtesy of Sotheby's

Jean-Michel Basquiats vibrant blue Untitled (Head) portrait on paper scored an over-estimate $15.2m with fees, while Roy Lichtensteins White Brushstroke 1 (1965) made $25.4m, towards the low end of expectations of $20m-$30m. And one of the evenings surprises was the strong result for MRead More – Source