Seminal works up for auction


A selection of paintings by eminent post-war and contemporary artists such as Mark Rothko, Lucian Freud, and the Irish-born figurative painter Francis Bacon will be auctioned by Christie's in New York on Tuesday.

It will feature works by few of the seminal artists in contemporary art history from some of today's most sought-after artistic movements. Representing the contemporary pop art movement will be works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Though works by Sam Francis, Adolph Gottlieb, Jeff Koons and Tom Wesselmann will also come under the hammer, the highlight will be the paintings of Rothko, Freud and Bacon. Robert Manley, head of Christie's post-war and contemporary art department, told Emirates Business: "An extraordinary collection of abstract expressionist works from a private American collector will come under the hammer. The pick of the lot from this is Rothko's No. 15, which ticks all the boxes for a premium Rothko work in quality, rarity and scale. It has an impressive scale and glorious red and yellow colours demonstrating extraordinary power."

He said 1952 was a groundbreaking year for abstract expressionists and the Latvian-born American painter Rothko's most creative year.

His use of intense colour is seen in an unprecedented way in No 15.

"The painting's large scale was Rothko's optimum format and nearly consumes the viewer. In No. 15, one can see how Rothko set out to shape the viewer's experience. The painting's scale forces it into the viewer's environment. There are few better examples of Rothko's signature style and for this reason, No. 15 has the potential to set a new world record for a Rothko," Manley said.

The last time it was sold at an auction in 1999, the piece fetched Dh40.4 million, he added. This time it is expected to go for around 10 times that figure.

Two of the most influential British artists are represented by deeply intimate and stunning interpretations of the human subject.

Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995), and Bacon's Three Studies for Self Portrait (1976), are among the major highlights of the sale, and both carry an estimated Dh91m to Dh128m price tag.

Manley said: "London-school painters Freud and Bacon are two of the most important and sought-after British artists in today's market, which is attracting interest of all art lovers.

"The most important work by Freud, the life-sized Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, is one of the finest of Freud's paintings from the 1990s.

The work portrays a nude woman, Sue Tilley – a benefits supervisor from London – lying asleep on a worn-out sofa and is a bold and imposing example of the stark power of Freud's realism.

"The picture is a simple and seemingly uncomposed depiction of one of the key features of Freud's art – the forceful and undeniable physical presence of people and things."