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Home > News, Articles & Multimedia > Worth Points > Rothko’s No. 1 (Royal Red & Blue) Gavels for $75 Million, Paces Historic Sotheby’s Sale

Rothko’s No. 1 (Royal Red & Blue) Gavels for $75 Million, Paces Historic Sotheby’s Sale

by WorthPoint Staff (11/14/12).

Mark Rothko’s “No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue),” an oil on canvas executed in 1954, blew past its $35-$50 million estimate, finally gaveling for more than $75 million in an auction at Sotheby’s on Nov. 13.

NEW YORK – Mark Rothko’s masterpiece—”No. 1 (Royal Red & Blue)”—led a Contemporary Art Auction at Sotheby’s on Nov. 13, selling for more than $75 million, making it the second-highest-priced work by the artist. The total take of $375,149,000 was also a record for Sotheby’s, designated as the best auction result in any category in Sotheby’s history. Several other world records were set for many other artists in the auction.

The sale began with Rothko’s “No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue),” which sold for $75,122,500, compared to its original estimate of between $35 to $50 million.The Rothko was the undisputed highlight of the evening, surpassing the Rockefeller Rothko to become the second highest price ever achieved for the artist at auction. Artist records were set for Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann, Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell and Wade Guyton, as well as a work-on-paper by Andy Warhol and a painting by Takashi Murakami.

“This has been an extraordinary year for contemporary art at Sotheby’s,” said Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s. “Tonight’s record results bring our 2012 total to well over $1 billion, and we still have tomorrow’s Day auction, as well as our upcoming sale in Paris. If you are looking for evidence that today’s market is alive and well, look no further.”

“We were thrilled to achieve great results on behalf of our consignors tonight, in an auction that showed just how vibrant the market is,” said Alexander Rotter, head of Sotheby’s contemporary art department in New York. “We were especially encouraged by the strong depth of bidding from around the world on works like the Rothko, Bacon and many more. In addition to the great prices achieved for paintings by the Abstract Expressionists, Warhol was the other star of the night. His works together achieved $54 million, well over their $35 million low estimate, and included the incredibly important ‘Suicide’ that brought a price nearly three times the previous auction record for a work on paper by the artist.”

“Royal Red and Blue,” from 1954, finally gaveled after a spirited competition from five bidders. The majestic canvas was one of eight works hand-selected by Rothko for his landmark solo show of the same year at the Art Institute of Chicago. “Royal Red and Blue” has remained in the same collection for 30 years.

Jackson Pollock’s “Number 4,” painted in 1951 with oil, enamel and aluminum paint on canvas, also achieved more than the estimated $25-$35 million, selling for $40,402,500.

Abstract Expressionist highlights came from A Distinguished Private American Collection, which totaled $101,348,000 and was highlighted by Jackson Pollock’s “Number 4” (1951), which sold for $40,402,500, well above the $25-$35 million estimate to set a new auction record for the artist. Other highlights from the collection included Willem de Kooning’s “Abstraction,” circa 1949, which sold for $19,682,500, as well as paintings by Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann and Arshile Gorky, all of which set new artist records.

A further highlight of the sale was one of the most important versions of Francis Bacon’s iconic Pope Paintings to have appeared at auction, Untitled “Pope” that sold for $29,762,500–well above the high estimate ($18-$25 million) and many multiples of the $105,475 it fetched when it last appeared at auction at Sotheby’s London in 1975. Also by Bacon was the 1967 portrait “Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne” from the Estate of George Embiricos that sold for $9,322,500.

The Andy Warhol works in the sale achieved a combined total of $54 million, well over the $35.2-$43.9 million estimate and were led by led by “Green Disaster” (Green Disaster Twice), one of the very first of the artist’s “car crash” paintings, which sold for $15,202,500 (est. in excess of $12 million).

Works-on-paper by the artist were particularly successful with the group of three, totaling $32.2 million (est. $21 million) with multiple bidders on all three. They were led by “Suicide” from 1964, which nearly trebled the previous medium record to sell for $16,322,500, several times the previous auction price of $132,000 set at Sotheby’s N.Y. in November 1992.

For more information about this auction, call 212.606.7176, e-mail Lauren.Gioia@Sothebys.com or visit the Sotheby’s website.

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