Art from home — 10 of the best virtual tours from Christie’s global salerooms
Want to revisit the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller? Window shop for royal jewels? Or wander among David Gilmour’s guitars? Well, now you can — take a digital stroll through the exhibitions that made history at Christie’s Test
It’s often said that Peggy and David Rockefeller were the greatest collectors of the 20th century.
That claim was somewhat confirmed in 2018 when Christie’s sold 1,500 of their artworks, decorative objects and jewels across 10 days of auctions, realising $835,111,334 — the highest total ever achieved for a single collection. The sale proceeds were donated to causes Peggy and David supported during their lifetimes.
In the six-month buildup to the sale, Christie’s published video tours of their homes, features exploring the couple’s philanthropic endeavours, a series of object lessons called ‘Live Like a Rockefeller’, and a virtual tour of the collection exhibition held at Rockefeller Plaza in New York.
Ahead of the live auctions, more than 80,000 visitors came to the Christie’s galleries to view the collection. Highlights included 20th-century masterpieces, such as Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (1905), Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur (c.1914-1917), and Matisse’s Odalisque couchée aux magnolais (1923). But arguably it was the couple’s personal mementos, including picnic baskets, duck decoys and money clips, that made the sale so captivating.
In May 2019, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York achieved a grand total of $538,721,750, setting a flurry of new world records in the process. The star of the night was Jeff Koons’ Rabbit, a 104 cm-high stainless-steel sculpture that sold for a staggering $91,075,000. It not only broke Koons’ personal best, but also the coveted record for world’s most expensive artwork sold by a living artist.
Other notable results that night included Robert Rauschenberg’s Buffalo II, which set an artist’s record at $88,805,000; and Louise Bourgeois’ Spider, which achieved $32,055,000 — a world-record price for Bourgeois and any contemporary sculpture by a female artist.
The auction also saw artist auction records for Frank Stella, Daniel Burren and Jonas Wood, at $4,575,000, $2,175,000 and $4,928,500 respectively.
As far as mammoth auctions go, Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence, a 2019 sale of almost 400 daggers, diamonds and miniature paintings, takes some beating. It was presided over by no fewer than five auctioneers, each taking a turn at hosting the 12-hour-long spectacle.
Bidders came from 45 countries, and included a significant number of institutions. After 150 lots, 10 had sold for in excess of $1 million. As afternoon gave way to evening, the world record for an Indian water pipe was set at $759,000 and a 17th-century gem-set mace sold for $747,000, more than 10 times its low estimate. When an emerald, sapphire and diamond belt-buckle brooch made by Cartier achieved $1,545,000, the room broke out in applause.
The sale achieved $109,271,875 — the highest total ever achieved for an auction of Indian art and Mughal objects.
On Friday 8 February 2019, Christie’s announced that it would be auctioning more than 170 works of art belonging to the late pop sensation George Michael.
The George Michael Collection, which was largely made up of works by Young British Artists, made headlines the world over. It felt like a reflection of Michael’s life, they said: bold, emotional, and often controversial.
A world tour was mounted: highlights of the collection were exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Hong Kong. In London, queues of thousands of devoted fans snaked around St. James’s in order to see Christie’s multimedia installation that celebrated Michael’s life and art.
On the night of the sale, the musician’s global appeal was recognised in bids from 52 different countries. The two top lots were both formaldehyde works by Damien Hirst: The Incomplete Truth and Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain, realising £911,250 and £875,250.
Overall, the online and evening auction total smashed its estimate, fetching £11,328,125. The money raised was used to extend Michael’s philanthropic legacy.
Art Adorned, a private selling exhibition at Christie’s in London, married Old Master paintings and decorative arts with couture gowns, garments and jewels from Dolce&Gabbana’s Alta Moda, Alta Sartoria and Alta Gioielleria collections.
For 12 days, the King Street Galleries were transferred into miniature Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo boudoirs, each designed to showcase the Italian fashion house’s obsession with European art history.
The broadcaster Mariella Frostrup presented a short film on the show, in which she spoke to Christie’s specialists about the links between paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi, coral-encrusted altarpieces, organza corsets and ostrich-feather dresses.
The battle for the top spot across Christie’s four Frieze Week sales in London in 2018 became a contest between two masterpieces: an egg-shaped canvas covered in glitter and oil, punctured with violent holes by Lucio Fontana in 1963; and a picture by Francis Bacon that shows a naked, contorted man reading a newspaper — interpreted by some as a ghostly apparition of his recently deceased lover, George Dyer.
Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio achieved £16,282,823, while Bacon’s Figure in Movement hammered down at £19,921,250, finally pipping Fontana to the post.
In 2019, Christie’s handbags department in New York gave their auction a contemporary twist.
Between iconic leather goods by Hermès and Chanel were pinball machines, crash helmets, bolt cutters, ashtrays and other miscellanea, made in collaboration with the king of streetwear brands, Supreme.
More than 200 skateboards were offered, including several coveted sets of Supreme decks designed by artists like Jeff Koons and KAWS. The latter sold for $32,500 against a low estimate of just $7,000.
The sale was a runaway success, surpassing expectations to land a total of $2,164,875.
One painting held everyone’s attention in Hong Kong last autumn: Five Nudes by the Chinese-French modernist Sanyu.
When it sold in 2011, it set the artist’s world record price at a whopping HK $128 million, simultaneously becoming the world’s most expensive Chinese oil painting.
Just a week before the painting was slated to appear at Christie’s, however, the artist’s auction record was shattered by another work, Nu, which sold for HK $198 million. Could Five Nudes regain the title?
On the night of the auction the picture comfortably soared past the week-old record, and its low estimate of HK $250 million. It finally hammered down at HK $303,985,000 — a feat still unbroken.
The sale helped the five days of auctions at Christie’s achieve a staggering HK $2.6 billion grand total.
When the first guitar from David Gilmour’s collection sold for $423,000 against a low estimate of $10,000, people started speculating that this would be no ordinary auction. When the second lot sold for $1,095,000 against the same estimate, it was confirmed.
When the Pink Floyd icon first announced he was selling 126 of his guitars, 12,000 fans rushed to book one-hour slots to see them on tour in London, New York and Los Angeles. In the weeks leading up to the sale, more than 500,000 people viewed them on the Christie’s website.
The most anticipated lot of the night was Gilmour’s famous 1969 black Fender Stratocaster, which he used to record the albums The Wall, Wish You Were Here, and Dark Side of the Moon. It sold for a monumental $3,975,000, thrashing the previous record for the world’s most expensive guitar.
Not long after the sale, the rock star announced that the $21,490,750 raised from the auction would be donated to the environmental charity, ClientEarth.
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Towards the end of 2019, during FIAC week, Christie’s in Paris held two buoyant modern and contemporary art sales which together totalled an impressive €58,627,125. Works by Duchamp, Magritte, and Zao Wou-Ki were all landing above their estimates.
But the star performance of the night came from a masterpiece by Nicholas de Staël. Painted in 1952, Parc des Princes (Les grands footballeurs) is a monumental 2 x 3.5 metre canvas depicting a football match which was played between France and Sweden’s national sides — a game that took de Staël’s breath away.
The work had a similar effect on at least two buyers that evening. They battled it out to the tune of €20,000,000 — setting not only a world record price for a work by de Staël, but also making it the most expensive football painting ever sold.