Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker sells Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée, shown left, for $58.5m (£47.2m).

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The sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips held over two weeks in May generated a combined $2.78bn (£2.23bn) with premium. This was above the $2.57bn for the sales in November and just eclipsed the $2.73bn (£1.84bn) in May 2015, the previous high for an equivalent sales series. 

Sotheby’s sales last week generated $1.09bn (£879m) which compared to £1.43bn from Christie’s sales the week before – the latter helped in no small part by the $170m (£136m) Andy Warhol silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe that fetched the second highest auction price of all time (see last week’s News).

Sotheby’s kicked off its sales with the second tranche of the Macklowe collection – an extraordinary offering of Modern and Post-war art that was being sold following the conclusion of the divorce trial between real estate mogul Harry Macklowe and his former wife Linda. As with the pictures sold in November, the 30 additional lots offered here in a dedicated sale on May 16 were all sold and were led by a Mark Rothko (1903-70) – in this case an untitled abstract from 1960 that took a withinestimate $41.5m (£33.5m) from a phone bidder.

Adding $246.1m to the bottom line, the latest offering took the overall total from the Macklowe collection to $922.2m – a figure representing an average lot value of $14.2m including fees and the highest grossing single-owner sale ever, overtaking the $835.1m from the David and Peggy Rockefeller collection at Christie’s in 2018.

The following day, Sotheby’s Modern evening auction made a premium-inclusive $408.4m (£329.3m), the third highest for a sale in the company’s history. It was led by Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée, a painting from 1932 of a biomorphic figure which represented his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter. With an estimate in excess of $60m, it sold at $58.5m (£47.2m).

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