Rare T-Rex fossil sold for US$31.8 million highlights Christie’s New York October sale

As a pandemic wrapped its way around the world, its silence progression shocked everyone. At Christie’s, they decided to present a jaw-dropping surprise at their unprecedented October sale. In addition to an array of museum-quality paintings, this sale astonished the art world with a remarkable 67-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex fossil, named STAN.

Indeed, Tyrannosaurus Rex, was sold for US$31.8 million (HK$245 million). This celebratory record now ranks the same value as many museum-quality paintings.

This sale absolutely upstaged the surprise of a pandemic, but most importantly, it attests to Christie’s perpetual success in spite of adversity. Records show four master paintings were withdrawn, including Mattise’s Nu debout devant la porte. From a total of 59 lots to 55 lots, the total estimate decreased, from US$306 million to US$277 million.

Despite nine items being bought-in, the New York October sale reached a sale rate of 84%, with the total hammer price of US$294 million, which was marginally higher than the total estimate. Including premium, it reached a sale total of US$340 million (equivalent of HK$2.6 billion). Based on analysis, 22% bidders were from Asia. This excellent result reflects active participation is still happening globally.

At Christie’s, innovative methods were devised to combat the unforeseen, which has lasting results for the New York October sale. Back in July, a global evening sale was launched, titled ONE. From Hong Kong, Paris, London, to New York, the marathon-paced auction reached a total of US$420 million (HK$3.24 billion). With such encouraging results, it affirms our trust in technology, the auctioneers, and the success of global live bidding.

To enhance the experience of this October sale, adjustments were made based on previous live experience. Auctioneer Adrian Meyer conducted the sale in a grey background, which acted as a large monitor to project prices, currencies and lot details. For the last lot, auctioneer Tash Perrin (Senior Director of Global Trust, Estate and Wealth Management Services) personally auctioned the sale of Tyrannosaurus Rex (STAN). Furthermore, two co-hosts at Christie’s provided highlight footage, which created an effect of a celebratory programme. Collectively, it attracted a total of 280,000 viewers.

Lot 59 | Tyrannosaurus Rex (STAN), Dinosaur bone fossil.

Second highest hammer price

Dimensions: 1128 x 396 x 183cm

  • Discovered by Stan Sacrison, spring 1987.
  • Excavated by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, 14 April to 7 May, 1992.
  • Additional skeletal remains excavated in 1993 & 2003.
  • Black Hills Institute of Geological Research.

EstimateUS$6,000,000 - 8,000,0000
Hammer Price:
Price Realised:

To recollect Christie’s October sale, we have to start with Tyrannosaurus Rex. Indeed, STAN was named after paleontologist Stan Sacrison. In spring of 1987, Sacrison found a dinosaur’s fossilized hip bone, which later confirmed to have been STAN’s.

Measured at 1,128 x 396 x 183cm, it is the most complete T-rex fossil to date. As James Hyslop, head of Christie’s Science & Natural History mentioned, STAN lived in the late Cretaceous period - the prehistoric age that ended mysteriously and abruptly some 65 million years ago with the mass extinction of the dinosaurs”.

Unequivocally, viewers became mesmerized and in awe, as they gaze through each delicate bone of the enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex (STAN). Interestingly, the head alone evokes our imagination of dinosaurs, as many were portrayed in classic movies, such as Jurassic Park (1993).

In comparison to monster-like depictions, the bone structure of STAN indicates strong animalistic physique, implying great independence amongst competitors. Additionally, its sharp teeth allowed the dinosaur to completely tear the prey apart. Its deep hollow nasal and eye area also suggests a great sense of smell, and a set of large eyes, which was essential to STAN’s survival.

The display of STAN was a collaborative project. “With approximately 188 bones mounted on a custom frame with additional cast elements, it took over 30,000 hours of labour to mount STAN to reflect his former glory (Christie’s, The Life of STAN). In the last 20 years, STAN was placed in South Dakota for research and display purposes. 

As we witnessed a magnificent natural history sold at auction, it reminded us of evolution, and our ability to endure and adapt as human beings. Indeed, STAN is a representation of the past, a time prior to civilization. Meanwhile, important works of modern and contemporary art represent profound maturity and creativity that was discovered since the dawn of prehistoric times.

The edges of STAN’s teeth are jagged, enough to directly crush and cut the meat and bones of the prey.

As this was STAN’s first auction appearance, it was estimated at US$6 million - US$8 million, with no reserve. Starting bid at US$3 million, New York and London specialists fervently did telephone bidding for their clients. After 17 rounds, it reached over US$10million. While many interests came from London’s specialists, New York 20th & 21st Century director Alex Rotter attempted to bid as well. Yet, the competition remained between Keith Gill, Head of Department of Impressionist & Modern Art, and James Hyslop, Head of Christie’s Science & Natural History.

The bidding war was mainly between Keith Gill (left) and James Hyslop (middle).

On behalf of his client, James Hyslop successfully bid for Tyrannosaurus Rex.

With an increment of US$500,000 per bid, it took 14 minutes of intense bidding to land a hammer price of US$27.5 million, which was sold to James Hyslop’s bidder. Including commission, the total price is US$31.8 million (HK$245 million). While it is uncertain whether the bidder is a private collector, or to be placed in a museum or an institution, it was the second highest hammer price of the sale. 

Lot 16 | Cy Twombly(1928-2011), Untitled (Bolsena)

Highest hammer price

Year of completion: 1969
Dimensions: 199.4 x 240cm

  • Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne
  • Anon. sale; Sotheby & Co., London, 3 April 1974, lot 50
  • The Mayor Gallery, London
  • Saatchi Collection, London
  • Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 6 May 1992, lot 33
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1992

EstimateUS$35,000,000 - 50,000,000
Hammer Price:US$35,000,000
Price Realised

In the category of Western Fine Art, the bidding ambience was relatively ordinary. As the highest hammer price of the sale, Untitled (Bolsena) had an estimate of US$35million - US$50 million, the highest estimate of the entire sale.

With a starting bid of US$24 million, it reached US$35 million after five bids. Including commission, the total is US$38.7 million (HK$298 million). The winning bid was for a client of Barrett White, Head of American Post-War and Contemporary Art Department.

Cy Twombly painted this work as an homage to the Apollo Moon Landing Mission.

Born in 1928, Cy Twombly studied Fine Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. After graduation, he joined the army and was listed as a coding expert. From his oeuvre, one can easily distinguish his artistic iconography of repeated words and symbols.

Completed in 1969, Untitled (Bolsena) was inspired by the launch of the Apollo Moon Landing Mission. By 1969, Twombly was residing in Rome and had a studio by Lake Bolsena. Given these major events by the late 60’s, it encouraged the artist into creating 14 series on the motif of Bolsena.

The painting was completed in his studio on the shore of Lake Bolsena.

Cy Twombly’s approach to painting starts with an explicit subject motif. In Untitled (Bolsena), lines and scribbles seem irregular and non-directional. However, upon close inspection, the white background in contrast with dark colored lines are intentional, as it evokes an impression of a rocket launch into the infinity of space.

Furthermore, symbols and numerical digits personifies humans on earth, as they complete mathematical calculations in preparation for the launch to the moon.  

Untitled (Bolsena) was on public display on many occasions. It was displayed at Los Angeles Contemporary Art Fine Arts in 1980s, and at Tate Modern in 2008-2009. Furthermore, it was also displayed at Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome. As for other series by Twombly, many were collected by the Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Saatchi Collection in London, and other leading art institutions.  

Lot 11|Mark Rothko(1903-1970),Untitled

Third highest hammer price

Year of completion: 1967
Dimensions: 172.7 x 153 cm

  • Marlborough-Gerson Gallery Inc., New York
  • Alistair McAlpine, London, 1969
  • Waddington Galleries, Ltd., London
  • Jacques Koerfer, Ascona, Switzerland, 1971
  • Private collection, Switzerland, 1990, by descent from the above
  • Anon. sale; Christies, New York, 19 November 1998, lot 320
  • C & M Arts, New York
  • Private collection
  • Barbara Annis Fine Art, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2002

EstimateUS$30,000,000 - 50.000,000
Hammer Price:US$28,000,000
Price Realised

Painted in 1967, Untitled is a later work of Rothko’s. With an estimate of US$30 million to US$50 million, the auctioneer started with US$20 million. After four bids, it reached the hammer price of US$28 million. While it didn’t reach the estimate, with commission altogether, the lot achieved a total of US$31.3 million (HK$250 million). This iconic painting of Rothko was bought by a client of Xin Li-Cohen, deputy director of Asia.

Mark Rothkos classic sectional paintings of the 1950s to late 1960s have been widely acknowledged as an expression of feeling. While works of total abstraction can perceived as enigmatic and ambiguous, Rothkos soft touch and color juxtaposition conveys spirituality and entices a personal connection with its viewers. From his early years of figurative paintings, to later of total abstraction, Rothko strenuously attempt to discard figurative representations as a visual approach.

Rather, Rothkos expansive streaks of color personified our emotions, inviting us to connect with our subconscious emotions and thoughts.. As Christopher Rothko, Mark Rothkos son once noted, the 1950s paintings invited you in. The 1960s paintings are keeping you more at arms length. Such analysis is imperative, as Untitled is a synthesis of the two periods. It defies our understanding of his darker periods (works created in the 60s).


Rothko Chapel

Untitled was painted after the completion of his black paintings in the Rothko Chapel. Indeed, the connection between Rothko Chapel and Untitled is heavily intertwined. As an unsettling space, the black paintings surrounding the interior of the Chapel creates an ambience of meditation and self-discovery.

In total silence and isolation, Rothko had to face his series of triptych and single black paintings. The dark hues and textured effects would reflect back to the artist and the viewers, enforcing us to question our character, moral and more. Completed in 1967, Untitled was likely done after a profound revelation and release from self-discovery upon the completion of the Rothko Chapel.

Visual aesthetics from Untitled affirms a combination of quality from the 1950s to 1960s. Soft edges and transcendent sections are present in the warm and pink section, creating the illusion of vitality, haze and dynamic movement. Meanwhile, the darker section portrays characteristics of the 60s - with the use of darker palette and less visible brushstrokes. It is absolutely one of the most exuberant paintings in his later years.

In 1998, Untitled was auctioned at Christies, with a total (including premium) of US$12 million. In a span of 22 years, the price of the painting was elevated 26 times.

Lot 8|Pablo Picasso(1881-1973),Femme dans un fauteuil

Fourth highest hammer price

Year of completion: June 19, 1941
Dimensions: 130 x 97 cm

  • Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (acquired from the artist, after 1956).
  • Stephen Hahn, New York (by 1967).
  • Meshulam Riklis, New York.
  • Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
  • Placido Arango, New York (by 1981).
  • Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner.

EstimateUS$ 20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer Price US$25,500,000
Price RealisedUS$29,557,500

Competition was heightened when it came to Femme dans un fauteuil by Pablo Picasso. The portraiture captures the spirituality of Dora Maar, the muse of Picasso. The lot had an estimate of US$20 million to US$30 million. With a starting bid of US$15 million, it only took 19 bids to reach a hammer price of US$25.5 million. The painting was sold the client of Barrett White, Head of American Post-War and Contemporary Art Department. Including commission, it came to a total of US$29.5 million (HK$228 million).

Completed in 1941, this portraiture is first time being auctioned. Indeed, Dora is a photographer and painter in Paris. In 1935-1936, she encountered Picasso at the infamous pier Les Deux Magots. Since 1937, Dora became one of Picassos most important inspirations when it came to female subject.  

Dora (right) is Picasso’s muse

Dora Maar Au Chat (Dora and the Kitten) sold for US$95.2 million in 2006

Aside from being a muse to Picasso, Dora Maar was also an active member of the Paris avant-grade social circle. Known for her wit and creativity, Dora became a constant muse and model for Picasso. In the artists eyes, Dora presents an ambience of melancholic, similar of a Kafka personality. It was in the scenery of mixed emotion that Picasso found his creative source. Completed in 1941, the painting was completed during World War Two, when Nazi army dominated the streets of Paris. It was during such distressing time when Picasso decided to paint with Dora in mind.    

In comparison with other portraitures of Picasso completed in 1941, Dora Maar Au Chat was successfully sold at New York Sotheby’s for US$95.2 million in 2006. In 2015, another portraiture Buste de femme (Femme à la résille(1938) was auctioned at Christie’s New York for US$67.4 million.

Lot 13Paul Cézanne(1839-1906),Nature morte avec pot au lait, melon et sucrier

Fifth highest hammer price

Year of completion:1900 - 1906
47.7 x 62.3 cm

  • Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
  • Prince of Wagram (Alexandre Berthier), Paris.
  • Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne.
  • Paul Rosenberg, Paris.
  • Galerie E. Bignou, Paris; The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), London and M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (March 1929).
  • Mr. and Mrs. Edsel B. Ford, Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan (acquired from the above, January 1933).
  • Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, bequest from the above, 1978.

Estimate: Upon request (US$25 million based on price realised)
Hammer PriceUS$26,000,000
Price realisedUS$28,650,000

As the cover lot, Post-impressionist master Paul Cézanne’s Nature morte avec pot au lait, melon et sucrier reached the fifth highest hammer price of the sale.

Christie’s estimated a price realized of US$250 million, however, the auctioneer started bid at US$220 million. After three bids, it achieved a hammer price of US$260 million, with commission, it came a total of US$28.6 million (HK$220 million). This outstanding result remains the highest auction price for paperworks of Cézanne. The lot was bought by a client of Keith Gill through telephone bidding. 

This painting was shown earlier in tour to Hong Kong

Despite a small size of 47.7 x 62.3cm, this delicate work with a medium of watercolor and gouache over pencil on paper summarizes Cézanne’s dexterity on watercolor. In comparison to his other still-life paintings, the range of colors and brushwork was daring and experimental, with technique similar of abstraction.

Upon completion, the painting was purchased by French legendary art dealer Ambroise Vollard. After several dealings, it landed in the lands of French aristocrat Alexandre Berthier. Following, World War One erupted. Berthier was killed and the painting vanished. It wasn’t until 1929 when the painting reappeared in MoMA (New York) for an overdue display.

Henry Ford's son Edsel (right) and his wife Eleanor

Edsel & Eleanor Ford House became a famous local tourist attraction

In 1933, Edsel, the son of Henry Ford of USA Ford Motors, along with his wife Eleanor purchased the painting. They kept it in their homes on the shores of Lake St. Clair, Michigan. After their passing, the mansion was opened to public, according to Eleanor’s will. Since then, the house of Edsel and Eleanor became a famous local tourist attraction. The painting was part of their will, and later displayed in their mansion.

As the trustee committee of Ford House mentioned, the reason to auction this painting was purely to ensure financial stability, as an approach for committees to have sufficient funds to preserve, restore and manage the mansion.

Lot 7|Willem de Kooning(1904-1997),Woman (Green)

Sixth highest hammer price

Year of completion: 1953-1955
Dimensions:76.8 x 59.1 cm

  • Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
  • Milton Gordon, New York
  • Private collection, New York
  • Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 4 November 1987, lot 53
  • Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago
  • Private collection, United States
  • Private collection, New York
  • Barbara Annis Fine Art, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2006

EstimateUS$20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer Price:US$20,000,000
Price Realised

As part of the Woman series, Woman (Green) by de Kooning was an exceptional highlight in the October Sale. With an estimate of US$20 million - US$30 million, it received a third-party guarantee prior to auction, which secured a buyer regardless. 

The painting started with US$16 million. After five rounds, it reached US$20 million hammer price. This vibrant painting was sold by New York 20th & 21st Century director Alex Rotter. Including commission, it reached a total of US$23.2 million (HK$180 million).

Willem de Kooning

The category of abstract expressionism would not be complete without legendary artist Willem de Kooning. The Holland artist moved to New York at the age of 20, and in time, developed a peculiar signature within the rise of abstract expressionism.

The works in de Kooning’s oeuvre are relatively large in size. As he discarded the traditional means of abstraction, his focus was on simplistic lines, shapes and colors as symbols. With stylistic features similar to primitive times, the subject in de Kooning’s work reveals his anxiousness, distress and void that was derived from societal critique.    

Woman series was an innovative chapter in de Kooning’s aesthetic expression. Completed in 1953-1955, Woman (Green) was created shortly after his initial exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery. The painting depicts a lady with enlarged, cartoon-looking eyes, wearing blush, and a blue-colored scarf. Completed with a sweet smile, the range of colors reveal radiance and stimulating energy captured in the 50’s. It also reflects de Kooning’s perception on women.

Lot 5|Jackson Pollock(1912-1956),Red Composition

Seventh highest hammer price

Year of completion1946
Dimensions48.9 x 59.1 cm

  • Peggy Guggenheim, Venice
  • Jimmy Ernst, New York, gift of the above, 1947
  • Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
  • Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman, New York
  • Gift of the above to the present owner, 1991

EstimateUS$12,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer PriceUS$12,000,000
Price RealisedUS$13,000,000

Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition was another stunning work that reached over US$10 million. With an estimate of US$12million - US$18 million, the bidding started with US$9 million. With only four bids, it achieved a hammer price of US$12million. Including commission, the work was sold for US$13million (HK$100 million).

Completed in 1946, Red Composition (48.9 x 59.1cm) is an epitome of his infamous “drip-painting” series. Indeed, the technique of “drip-painting” means to discard brushes, and easels. Rather, Pollock placed the canvas on the floor and directly filled the canvas according to automatic gestures, which resulted in layers of abstracted patterns. As part of his creative process, he would move around the canvas, allowing droplets of paint to form explicitly. Indeed, his iconic process that was later captured could be seen as a performative art alone.

Pollock’s infamous paint-dripping technique. It can be perceived as a performative art.

This work was originally in the collection of the Iverson Museum of Art in New York. With this Pollock painting, the museum, which specializes in American art, aims to utilize proceeds from the sale to purchase artworks from female artists and people of color that are currently not recognized by the public.

Auction Summary

Auction HouseChristie’s NY
20th Century Evening Sale
Sale Date:

Lots offered:55
Sold by lot:84%
Sale total:US$340,851,500