Most lots chosen to appear on The Hot Bid go on to find buyers. Here are the ten that commanded the highest sums in 2019.
10. Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 oil on canvas by Howard Terpning. Bonhams estimated it at $300,000 to $500,000 and sold it for $425,075. In discussing Howard Terpning’s appeal, Aaron Bastian, specialist in Bonhams’s California and Western art department, said, “It’s not just that any one painting is spectacular, it’s consistent quality over the decades. I think that’s why the value is what we see. They’re so well-planned that you don’t see bad Howard Terpnings. They don’t make it onto the market. They fall apart earlier in the process.”
9. An oil on panel portrait of the artist John Singer Sargent, painted by Giovanni Boldini in 1890. It carried an estimate of £200,000 to £300,000 ($261,800 to $391,200), and fetched £371,250, or about $494,000, at Christie’s London. Veronica Scarpati, specialist at Christie’s London, said of the work, “What I love about it is you can see the board [the panel] coming through, especially on the edges. It doesn’t appear to be a commission, or a study. It’s an artist at play, looking up to and admiring [his friend]. That’s why it’s so special. It’s frank and intimate.”
8. Songs: Yesterdays, a large 1985 acrylic on canvas from the late Kenneth Noland. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimated the painting at $100,000 to $150,000 and sold it for $550,000. “It’s vibrant. It’s really quite impressive. It’s in flawless condition, which is always nice,” said Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA, adding, “It almost vibrates right in front of your eyes. It’s not subtle like some of his chevrons. This is really bold, and pops out.”
7. A 1543 copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V [On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres], by Nicolaus Copernicus, the first scientific work to place the sun at the center of the heavens, rather than the Earth. Estimated at £500,000 to £700,000, or $633,000 to $886,200, it sold at Christie’s London for £587,250, or roughly $734,569. Barbara Scalvini, expert specialist in the book and manuscript department at Christie’s, spoke of the sensation of handling the landmark book: “To me, one of the most affecting parts of the book is the illustration of the concentric circles of the planets around the sun. You can see the earth, a little dot emphasized with a circle, that says we humans are not the center of the universe, but an accident on the periphery.”
6. COMPOSITION, a porcelain enamel panel commissioned from Roy Lichtenstein in 1969. [Note: It’s shown here upside-down, which is how the person who commissioned it displayed it in his home.] Sotheby’s estimated it at $900,000 to $1.2 million. It commanded $1.28 million, just a bit more than its high estimate. “It’s impressive. It holds its own in our gallery. It pulls you in,” said Nicole Schloss, Head of Sotheby’s day auctions of Contemporary art in New York, adding, “Your eye wants to follow the curve of the rainbow. It’s really an exciting work to see in the flesh. It’s much brighter than it looks in the illustration. It’s quite vibrant.”
5. Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, a circa 1830-1835 portrait by American folk artist Ammi Phillips. Estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, it sold at Christie’s New York for $1.69 million and a new world auction record for the artist. In explaining why Phillips’s portraits of children fetch the highest prices for the artist at auction, John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas, said, “Phillips is at his best with children because there were no rules [for painting them]. A lot of Phillips works are dour. Some of his sitters are ministers and older people with bibles in their laps. With children, he captures the spirit of young America. That’s where he hits the home run, and that’s why there’s a huge price difference with the artist. Depicting a child evokes much more.”
4. Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimated the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million. They sold for $1.8 million. Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, viewed the tapes in the process of preparing them for sale, and was surprised by the emotions that the familiar images evoked. “When I watched the tapes, I was surprised, because I started tearing up. The engineer spooling the tapes started tearing up. His wife started tearing up. It has such an impact on people. I’ve sold a lot of cool things that flew to the moon, but this represents what all that effort was for. This is the primary witness to the moment we worked for. It really is representative of man’s greatest achievement. It’s the original artifact from the agency that made it possible. It all comes back to the moments captured on these tapes.”
3. The Mirror of Paradise, a 52.58-carat Golconda diamond set in a ring. Estimated at $7 million to $10 million, it commanded $6.5 million at Christie’s New York. In discussing why the precious stone has a rectangular cut, Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas, said, “The rough would have dictated what shape it is. You can find Golcondas in all shapes. The cut of the Mirror of Paradise is so spectacular. It gives it a brilliance you don’t often find in an emerald cut.”
2. A double elephant folio version of The Birds of America by John James Audubon. Sotheby’s estimated the copy of the legendary book at $6 million to $8 million. It sold for $6.6 million in a single-lot auction. Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York, said of the American flamingo plate shown above, “It’s the encapsulation of Audubon’s achievement in a single plate. He took an enormous, wonderful scarlet bird and gets it in there without looking unnatural or awkward. And he throws in anatomical details at the top, which he very seldom does. It’s a great combination of artistry, science, and the personal observation behind the artistry.”
1. Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape, a life-size oil on canvas painted in 1788 by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. Sotheby’s New York estimated it at $4 million to $6 million. It sold for almost $7.2 million–a record for the artist, and a record for any female artist of the pre-modern era. “[Vigée Le Brun] was a brilliant painter and a brilliant portraitist, able to capture the subject with a sense of knowing them,” said Calvine Harvey, specialist and vice president in the Old Masters department at Sotheby’s, adding, “I think her early training as a pastelist shows a sense of softness and light that comes from the pastel medium. Her social skills were advanced, and she used them to her advantage to get the sittings she got and to draw out her sitters. She studied them and knew who they were, and she focused on them.”
Special thanks to the following for permitting re-use of their images for this story:
Bonhams, for the Glinda the Good Witch test wand and the Howard Terpning painting.
Christie’s, for the Copernicus, the Boldini portrait of Sargent, the Ammi Phillips portrait, and the Mirror of Paradise Golconda diamond.
Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), for the Kenneth Noland painting.
Sotheby’s, for the Lichtenstein ceramic panel, the Apollo 11 moon walk tapes, and the Le Brun portrait.
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