When selecting lots to feature on The Hot Bid, estimates aren’t as big a factor as you might think. Even still, it’s fun to look back over a year’s worth of stories and see what sold for the most.
10. An untitled early 1980s Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover, Juan DuBose. Featured in an online Sotheby’s sale of art from Haring’s personal collection, it commanded $504,000, more than double its high estimate. “It’s a subject that burns like fire. It’s in-your-face and bold,” says Harrison Tenzer, head of Sotheby’s contemporary art online sales in New York. “There’s so much joy and eroticism and heat in the portrait, and we know what’s going to happen to each of these three men. Unlike Warhol, who was active for four decades in a major way, Haring only had one decade. But he burned so bright, like a candle lit at both ends.”
9. A Stevens model 44 .25-20 single shot rifle, given to Annie Oakley in the late 19th century. Offered at Morphy Auctions for $200,000 to $400,000, it sold for $528,900. The Stevens company bestowed this rifle on Oakley, and its competitors routinely did the same, according to Morphy Auctions Firearms Expert Michael Salisbury: “Every firearms manufacturer in the U.S. gave Annie Oakley firearms. It was no different than Nike sending Michael Jordan shoes he could wear. She was a rock star. Everybody wanted to go to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. It was a huge event. And I don’t know if it was her intellect or her desire to shoot different weapons, but Annie Oakley never settled on one type of gun. She used a wide variety of firearms. She’d hear about, for example, a new type of Winchester rifle, and would write to the manufacturer saying she’d like to have one, and of course they’d send her one.”
8. Abstraction, a sculpture modeled in 1946 by Georgia O’Keeffe and cast in bronze between 1979 and 1980. Featured in a March 2020 Sotheby’s auction, it fetched $668,000, more than double its high estimate. O’Keeffe explored sculpture three times in her career: in 1916, in 1946, and 1982. Abstraction takes a form that the artist favored. “The spiral form appears throughout Georgia O’Keeffe’s body of work. She returns to the shape time and time again, depicting it in many media,” says Charlotte Mitchell, specialist at Sotheby’s. “The curvilinear lines you see and the powerful simplified shape reflects her interpretation of the natural world.”
7. An exceptionally early print of Ansel Adams’s photograph Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. Sotheby’s sold it in December 2020 for $685,500. Emily Bierman, head of the photography department at Sotheby’s, recounted the story of how Adams captured the legendary image: “He happened to make it in the Southwest, on a day when he wasn’t shooting for that [Department of the Interior murals] project. He was accompanied by his son and a fellow photographer. They were passing through Hernandez, New Mexico when Adams was immediately struck by the quality of light in the town and its cemetery. He pulled the car over and they all got out. The time was ticking down, and no one could find the light meter. Adams made a quick calculation [based on what he knew about the luminosity of the moon]. Before he had a second chance to shoot an exposure, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the day was over. It was a one-shot wonder, a combination of pure luck, timing, and mastery behind the camera and in the darkroom.”
6. Angels Representing Seven Churches, a set of Tiffany windows created by the famed studio in 1902 for a Swedenborgian church in Ohio. The group sailed past its $150,000 to $250,000 estimate to command $705,000. In talking about how the windows reflect Tiffany Studios’s mastery of glass, Freeman’s head of 20th century design Tim Andreadis says, “First, there’s the overall design. The figures are beautifully rendered in the composition, in the style of dress, and in the way that each relates to one another. All the elements incorporated in the window are carefully designed to best illustrate that particular angel. Two, the glass reflects the firm’s penchant for richly saturated hues and a color palette that was arresting to the viewer. The feather glass not only suggests the texture of the wing, but the shading along the wing in deeply saturated striated reds and vibrant golden yellows makes each feather its own special element. Tiffany was able to paint in glass–to create all that rich texture and subtlety.”
5. Abraham Lincoln: The Man, aka Standing Lincoln, a reduced-size version of a sculpture commissioned from Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the late 19th century. It sold for $1.5 million against an estimate of $600,000 to $900,000. Sotheby’s specialist Charlotte Mitchell says, “It’s incredibly beautiful in person, with a rich brown patina that stands out and draws the eye in. You can see the details in Lincoln’s face and the emotion that Augustus Saint-Gaudens really captured. There are also details on the chair and the hands as well–the hands really read true-to-life.”
4. A gold Eid Mar coin, dating to 42 B.C.E. Estimated at $500,000, it sold at Roma Numismatics Limited in London for roughly $4.2 million and set a new world auction record for an ancient coin. David Vagi, director of ancient coins at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), says the coin did more than reflect a set monetary value. “There were many who considered Caesar a tyrant and were glad to be rid of him. With this coin, Brutus doubled down on what got him to this stage to begin with,” he says, adding, “This is an attempt by Brutus–a very blatant attempt–to make the case that Caesar’s assassination was not only good for Rome, it was justifiable. It’s a peek into the mind of Brutus. The stakes were life and death. He went with the justice of his cause.”
3. A 1959 Martin D-18E guitar, played by Kurt Cobain for Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged episode. It sold for $6 million, blasting past its $1 million estimate. Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, sees similarities between Cobain and another musician whose material is just as scarce and hard to find: “There’s a lot of crossover between Kurt Cobain and John Lennon. The Beatles transformed music and our attitude to music in the 1960s. Nirvana did it again in the 1990s.”
2. Portrait de Marjorie Ferry (Portrait of Marjorie Ferry) by Tamara de Lempicka. It commanded £16,280,000, or $21.1 million, and set a new world auction record for the artist. Keith Gill, head of the Impressionist and Modern art evening sale held at Christie’s London, speaks about the spellbinding power of the 1932 oil on canvas: “I like it because it has a very strong… almost insight into the strength of her [Ferry’s] personality. She looks directly at you, and she has grey eyes, which tie into the greys in her clothes and in the background. And I’m proud to be somebody who put a female artist on our [catalog] cover.”
- A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known as STAN. Estimated at $6 million to $8 million, it sold for $31.8 million and a new world auction record for any dinosaur. James Hyslop, head of Christie’s department of scientific instruments, globes, and natural history, detailed the tale told by STAN’s bones: “Many of his ribs cracked and healed during his lifetime. He has holes on his jaw that are not caused by disease–they are puncture wounds that are pretty much the size of a T. rex‘s tooth. And vertebrae in his neck fused together and healed, right behind the skull. STAN broke his neck, healed, and carried on being at the top of the food chain. That tells you how tough the T. rex was as an animal.”
Special thanks to the following for permitting re-use of their images for this story:
Sotheby’s, for the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover; the Ansel Adams photograph Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico; the O’Keeffe bronze; and the Standing Lincoln bronze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Morphy Auctions, for the Annie Oakley gun.
Freeman’s, for the Tiffany church windows.
Roma Numismatics Limited, for the gold Eid Mar coin.
Julien’s Auctions, for the Kurt Cobain guitar.
Christie’s, for the Tamara de Lempicka portrait of Marjorie Ferry and also STAN the T. rex.
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