Sotheby’s placed under the hammer the prestigious collection of Rachel “Bunny” Mellon on Monday night, the auction houses experts called the collection – of modern and contemporary works that spanned 400 years -“one of the last great private American collections formed in the 20th century.” On its completetion the auction made over £100 million, exceeding the expectation of £51.7 to £75.8 million. With all 43 lots offered finding buyers, with what is known in auction world parlance as a “white glove sale.”
Contemporary specialist Oliver Barker, was auctioneer for the evening and the expperet carefully fielded the energetic volley of bids for any given work. Among the highest lots on the block was Mark Rothko’s brilliant blue Untitled (1970), a painting by the artist with signature blocks of colour. Estimated to sell for £7.5 to £12.6 million, the bidding began at at £7.5 million. The work was the focus of at least a half-dozen bidders before it sold to specialist Alex Branczik for the price of £22.4 million, or £25.2 million with the addition of the premium.
Another Rothko was also at the centre of the sale, and with a higher estimate. This prestigious work was the orange-colored Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) (1955), which was also highly sought after by multiple bidders and appeared to be about to sell to a Sotheby’s specialist on the phone with a client for £20.2 million when, at the very end, the Nahmad family of art dealers decided offer another £315,000 bid and won the acclaimed painting for £20.5 million on an estimate of £12 to £18 million.
Mrs. Mellon’s collection disaplayed a varied taste in styles and periods with a penchant for cool blue and green colour tones in many of the works. This was evident in the numerous paintings by Richard Diebenkorn and Nicikas de Staël from her collection. In keeping with the collector’s tastes in colour Georgia O’Keeffe’s White Barn (1932), sold for £2.2 million after an estimate of approximately £950,000 to £1.5 million.
Mark Rothko, Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) (1955) image courtesy of Sotheby’s.