'Head of a boy' by Lucian Freud, a 7in (18cm) square oil on canvas from 1956 depicting the late Guinness family heir and arts patron Garech Browne who died last year. It was knocked down at £4.9m at Sotheby’s.

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Although the selling rates kept up well – and some of the prices fetched by certain works demonstrated hefty returns – the premium-inclusive £253.9m raised from sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips and Bonhams fell from £406.7m generated at the equivalent sales in March 2018.

When added to the Impressionist and Modern sales the week before, the combined total for the fortnight was £554.1m, the lowest for three years.

The top lot of the series was a large prime-period David Hockney double portrait that was knocked down at £33m at Christie’s on March 6.

Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, a 9ft 10in (3m) high acrylic on canvas from 1969 depicting the New York curator Geldzahler with his then partner, came from the collection of the late Barney A Ebsworth. The bulk of the consignment was sold by Christie’s in November, raising $323m (£248.5m).

Sotheby’s sale the night before was topped by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Apex from 1986 that was knocked down to a European private buyer at £7.05m.

It also offered an early Lucian Freud (1922-2011) head study which came to auction directly from the sitter’s collection, the late Guinness family heir and arts patron Garech Browne, who died last year.

The 7in (18cm) square oil on canvas from 1956 was estimated at £4.5m-6.5m and sold at £4.9m to a European private buyer.

It made the highest price for a work by the artist from the 1950s, according to Sotheby’s.


'Head of a boy' by Lucian Freud – £4.9m at Sotheby’s.

Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art evening sale on March 7 raised £36.4m and was led by Gerhard Richter’s Fighter Jet from 1963 that was knocked down at £13.5m against a £10m-15m estimate.

The picture had previously been offered at Phillips New York in 2016 where it sold to a Chinese buyer who had provided a third-party guarantee on the lot. After defaulting on payment, Phillips sued the buyer to recover its losses after it had paid the guaranteed sum to the vendor.