Phillips notches its best sale ever with record-breaking Bradford and £42 Million Picasso

 Making history on several levels, the sale managed to place major works of Modern Art by Picasso and Matisse alongside contemporary fare.


The stars were aligned for Phillips in London when La Dormeuse, Picasso’s imposing 1932 painting of his voluptuous lover and muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, sold for £37m (£41.8m with fees).

The portrait–part painting, part drawing–contributed to what the auction house said was its highest ever total anywhere–including New York. The £84.5m (£97.8m with fees) result is seven times last spring’s total.

At least five people vied for the painting, which eventually went to an anonymous telephone bidder on the line with Marianne Hoet, Phillips’s deputy chairman in Europe. Hugues Joffres, a senior adviser at the auction house who snared the painting, described the buyer as “seasoned and sophisticated”, to which chief executive Ed Dolman cheerfully added “and rich”.

In Picasso’s collection until he died, La Dormeuse has never come to auction before. The family of the European seller acquired it from the now defunct Pace-Wildenstein Gallery in New York in June 1995 and it has been tucked away in their private collection ever since.

According to Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’s co-head of 20th-century and contemporary art, the Tate had originally asked for the painting to be included in their exhibition, Picasso 1932–Love, Fame, Tragedy, an offer apparently declined by the seller. Painted on 13 March 1932, La Dormeuse would have sat perfectly in the show, which has canvases from 12 and 14 March 1932.


A further indication of Phillips’s ability to capture more of the 20th-century market came with the sale of a reclining nude bronze by Henri Matisse, conceived in 1907, cast in 1908 and last exhibited in 1917. The sculpture made £13m (£14.9m with fees)–double its estimate.

Christie’s quietly racked up the highest-ever total for a contemporary auction in Europe on Tuesday night: £117.7m (£137.5m with fees). The result just pipped the £116.9m (£132.8m with fees) made in June 2012 when the art market was in the ascendancy. With a sell-through rate of 92%, the auction marked a 43% leap in value from last year’s sale.

Four lots went over £10m, topped by a series of six memento mori portraits of Andy Warhol created for a show at Anthony d’Offay in London just months before the arist died in 1987. The group of canvases, which was guaranteed by the auction house, last sold at auction in 2014 for $30m with fees; it made marginally more this week: £19.9m (£22.6m or $31.3m with fees).


Other US headlines came courtesy of Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose 1982 crossbar canvas, which was guaranteed by a third party, sold over the phone to Americas co-chairman Alex Rotter for £10.5m (£12.1m with fees), and Donald Judd, whose aluminium wall sculpture from 1985 doubled its estimate selling for £1.1m (£1.3 with fees) to the London and New York dealer Nick Maclean, who was converting prices into US dollars for a client on the phone.

“We mustn’t forget that the totals this week are the highest achieved in Europe and we now have Phillips entering the big league, which is new.”