A small scaled Francis Bacon triptych of fellow artist Lucien Freud was the £23million highlight of a remarkable private collection that sold at Sotheby’s London on February 10 for a total of £94million. Looking Closely: A Private Collection, almost doubled its £55million estimate in a sale of modern and contemporary art that set new records for Salvador Dali (a work which also became the most expensive surrealist work ever to sell at auction) and Julio González, as well as for other artists that rarely appear at auction. In what Sotheyb’s described as a “charged salesroom” with “intense bidding battles”, the evening was what is referred to as a “white glove” sale, where every work sold.

“Connoisseurship and a discerning eye are key to our world and drive this market,” commented Tobias Meyer, the head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, who was also the evening’s auctioneer. “Tonight you saw the beautiful marriage of a great collection, put together by real connoisseurs, selling to true collectors. I am confident the works of art from this elegant ensemble will be loved as much in their new homes as they were in the collector’s home.” Though Sotheby’s would not confirm the name of that collector, art world insider’s understand it to be the late George Kostalitz.

What made this sale so special? Why was it such a hit with collectors? And why did so many pieces soar past their estimates? Tobias Meyer, who has a unique personal relationship with this collection, is the most qualified person to answer these questions. Discover the Looking Closely collection through his video tour.

What made this sale so personal to Tobias Meyer, the head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, who was also the evening’s auctioneer?

“Aside from being a quite remarkable congregation of Modern and Contemporary art, this collection holds a singular position within my professional career. As a twenty-nine year old in 1992, I was hired by Sotheby’s to run the European Contemporary Art department, and one of my first priorities was to research the most beautiful objects that I had previously admired from afar during Sotheby’s auction exhibitions. The painting that had caught my eye above all, drawing me close to the point of obsession, was a small portrait – a self portrait by Lucian Freud from 1952 (lot 29). I looked up the name of the buyer and, intrigued to learn something of the character behind such a discerning acquisition, asked my colleague and subsequent mentor, Michel Strauss, to teach me more about them. He told me the story of a very discreet, very educated European couple who had devoted decades to acquiring only the best for a very personal collection of the highest quality.”

The Top 3 Lots:

Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud
Sold: £23,001,250 / $37,004,411
Estimate. £7-9 million
Over 10 bidders battled for Francis Bacon’s triptych of Lucian Freud, a testament to the friendship between these two giants of twentieth-century painting. The work was executed at the height of Bacon’s career. Its intimate 14x12 inch format is one which the artist used exclusively for portraits of his good friends. “This striking painting has everything a collector in the current market is looking for.” commented Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Chairman of Contemporary Art Europe. “It is an artwork that radiates 'wall-power' with its brilliant colour and dramatic brushstrokes.”

Salvador Dalí’s Portrait de Paul Eluard
Sold: £13,481,250 / $21,688,635
Estimate: £3.5—5m
“The stars align in this powerful portrait, which unites two pivotal figures of the Surrealist period and ranks among the finest Surrealist portraits ever painted. The record price it achieved reflects not only the desire and hunger for masterworks by the artist, but also the mythical status this work enjoys in Dali’s oeuvre”
- Helena Newman, Chairman, Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Europe.

Alberto Giacometti’s Portrait d'Annette au Pull-Over Rouge
Sold: £4,857,250 / $7,814,344
Estimate: £2,000,000 - 3,000,000
This is a striking portrait of the artist’s wife, which Giacometti painted at the height of his career, and is distinguished as one of several featuring her wearing a red jacket. Along with his brother Diego, Annette was the artist’s most important model and posed for him many times. Its vivid colour and textual complexity that recalls Giacometti’s sculptural work are what made this painting such a hit in the auction room.

The New Art World Records Made at Looking Closely:

Record for Salvador Dali at auction
Record for any surrealist art at auction
Salvador Dalí’s Portrait de Paul Eluard
Sold: £13,481,250 / $21,688,635
Estimate: £3.5—5m
A bidding war with 8 players contested for this work, which sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for triple its estimate.

Record for Julio González at auction
Julio González, Masque Ombre et Lumière
Sold: £3,513,250 / 5,652,117
Estimate: £2,000,000 - 3,000,000
The world auction record was broken twice in quick succession at Looking Closely for Julio Gonzalez as two rare sculptures by the artist soared above estimate. Masque My, sold for £2,729,250, eclipsing the previous record for the artist by a good margin. Soon after, a second work by the artist, Masque ‘Ombre et Lumière’, nearly doubled the record established just moments earlier. Both unique sculptures were executed in iron, the most desirable medium in Gonzalez’s oeuvre, and both were in exceptional condition.

Record for Wols at auction
Wols, Sans Titre, executed in 1946-47
Sold: £2,617,250 / $4,210,632
Estimate: £100,000 - 150,000
This was a very rare appearance for a work by Wols at auction and set a new auction record for the artist when it went for 17 times its pre-sale high estimate. The work, one of only 40 to have been created by Wols, epitomises the artist’s contribution to art history of the immediate Post-war period in Europe. Wols became, in a very short period of time, a leading figure in art in Post-War Europe and Sans Titre is a powerful marker of this pivotal reputation.

Record for Jean Fautrier at auction
Jean Fautrier’s Corps d’Otage
Sold: £2,505,250/ $4,030,446
Estimate: £700,000 – 900,000
This masterful work is one of the most significant paintings by Jean Fautrier’s hand ever to appear at auction and epitomizes the height of his career. It was central to the artist’s breakthrough exhibition at Galerie René Drouin, Paris in 1945 and will be included in the forthcoming Jean Fautrier Catalogue Raisonné currently being prepared.