Led by Bacon's Self Portrait, media mogul S.I. Newhouse's collection garners US$177.8m

On 11 May, Christie's kicked off New York's Spring Sale series with a sold-out collection of the late Condé Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse. All backed with a third-party guarantee ahead of the sale, the 16 lots on offer totaled US$177.8 million, above the pre-sale low estimate of US$144 million.

Headlining the evening auction was Francis Bacon's 1969 Self-Portrait in an intimate and almost square format. Chased after by at least three bidders, the lot fetched US$34.6 million with fees, exceeding the low estimate of US$22 million.

The second and third top lot went to Willem de Kooning's 1947 black and white abstract painting Orestes and Pablo Picasso's 1937 portrait of model and war photographer Lee Miller L’Arlésienne, which sold for US$30.9 million and US$24.6 million respectively.

Francis Bacon's Self-Portrait was the top lot of the sale

The late Condé Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse

Jeff Koons' The Rabbit from the Newhouse collection sold for US$91 million in 2019

Incredibly driven in his collecting, the late media mogul S.I. Newhouse whose magazine empire included VogueThe New YorkerVanity Fair, GQ was willing to go to any length for a painting he truly loved, and was always prepared to pay for the best.

Four years ago, his masterpiece-stocked art collection made waves on the auction scene when Jeff Koons' The Rabbit from his trove sold for US$91 million, making it the most expensive work by a living artist to be sold at auction.

Testimony to his intuitive eye, his collection also included Andy Warhol's Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, which fetched a sensational US$195 million in 2022 – the second-highest auction price achieved by a painting. 

Andy Warhol's US$195 milion Shot Sage Blue Marilyn was previously owned by S.I. Newhouse

As he navigated the art scene over the years, Newhouse developed a broad interest that ranged from Abstract Expressionism and Pop to Impressionism, Cubism and figurative art. 

After his death in 2017, his vast holdings have been released to the market pile by pile. This sale marked the third chapter of his art collection at Christie's, which began with sale of Francis Bacon's 1969 Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing in 2018, when it fetched US$21.7 million over its US$14 million low estimate. 

The following year, the abovementioned record-setting Koons was sold alongside 11 other works during 20th Century Week in New York. Representing his renowned taste and instinct for quality, the sale that was expected to fetch US$130 million ended up achieving US$216.3 million.

11 artworks from S.I. Newhouse's collection sold for US$216.3 million in 2019

Lot 5A | Francis Bacon | Self-Portrait, Oil on canvas
Painted in 1969
35.6 x 30.5 cm
Provenance (Edited by The Value):

  • Valerie Beston, London (gift from the artist, circa 1969)
  • Christie's, London, 8 February 2006, lot 5 (Sold: £4.6 million; US$8.9 million)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$22,000,000 - 28,000,000
Hammer Price: US$29,750,000
Sold: US$34,622,500

The bidding for the lot started at US$15 million and attracted at least three interested buyers on the phone. After around 24 bids, the work landed at a hammer price of US$29.75 million, selling for US$34.62 million with fees to the client with paddle number 2109 represented by Olivier Camu, Deputy Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art London. 

As Lucian Freud rose to prominence on the international art scene during the post-war years, Newhouse, who was fascinated by the artist's naked self-portrait, once travelled all the way from America to London to visit him.

Interestingly, it was in Freud's studio that he saw the famous Bacon painting of two men wrestling in the grass that hung above Freud’s bed, and developed an interest in Bacon's art. And from there, he purchased Bacon’s 1969 Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing – which sold for US$21.7 million in 2018 – and this 1969 self-portrait.

Olivier Camu won the lot for his client with paddle number 2109

Francis Bacon is renowned for his portraiture of violently distorted human flesh

Francis Bacon | Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing | 35.6 x 30.5 cm | Sold: US$21,687,500, Christie's New York, 2018

Bacon as a figurative painter once explained himself that he wanted images which “would rise from a river of flesh”. While he has long been famous for his portraiture of violently distorted human flesh, the present work is a remarkably tender self-image, exuding a warmth even.

Such gentleness perhaps reflects Bacon’s feeling towards its intended recipient: it’s a gift to his assistant Valerie Beston, who played an essential role in the artist’s personal and professional lives since 1958.

Two years after the work was completed, it was featured in his career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, following by a number of major international exhibitions across the decades since, such as at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1975.

Lot 16A | Willem de Kooning | Orestes, Oil, enamel and paper collage on paper mounted on board
Executed in 1947
61.3 x 91.8 cm
Provenance (Edited by The Value):

  • Egan Gallery, New York
  • Mr. and Mrs. John Stephan, New York, 1949
  • Ruth Stephan Franklin, New York (by descent from the above)
  • Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., New York
  • Private collection, Europe
  • Washburn Gallery, New York
  • Allan Stone Gallery, New York
  • Thomas W. Wiesel, San Francisco
  • Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 12 November 2002, lot 11 (Sold: US$13.2 million)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate on request (Expected to fetch in the region of US$25 million)
Hammer Price: US$26,500,000
Sold: US$30,885,000

Just as with his discerning eye for recruiting talents for his magazine empire – such as Anna Wintour as editor-in-Chief of Vogue – Newhouse had a knack for spotting key works that define their artists. One such piece is Willem de Kooning’s Orestes.

Auctioneer opened the star lot at US$19 million and saw two telephone bidders propel the price to US$26.5 million. After fees, the work fetched US$30.88 million, going to the buyer with paddle number 2054 represented by Maria Los, Head of Client Advisory Americas. 

The lot, which Newhouse acquired after selling another black-and-white de Kooning to American business mogul David Geffen, is part of an important group of early paintings by the artist known as the black and white series, which marks a pivotal point in his artistic career.

Painted in 1947 and exhibited in de Kooning's first solo exhibition, it was with this particular work that the artist liberated himself from the pure figuration that he had studied in Rotterdam and began cultivating his characteristic blend of lettering, gestural figures and abstract motifs. 

Willem de Kooning

Lot 3A | Pablo Picasso | L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller), Oil and Ripolin on canvas
Painted in Mougins on 11 September 1937
72.7 x 59.8 cm

  • Estate of the artist (until at least the early 1990s)
  • Private collection (by descent from the above)
  • PaceWildenstein, New York (acquired from the above, 15 September 1998)
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 14 January 1999

Estimate: US$20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer Price: US$21,000,000
Sold: US$24,560,000

Pablo Picasso's 1937 portrait of model and war photographer Lee Miller L’Arlésienne was opened at US$14 million and received eight bids to achieve the hammer price of US$21 million. With fees, it sold for US$24.56 million to the telephone bidder with paddle number 2117 represented by Global President Jussi Pylkkanen. 

One of the fashion industry's most sought-after faces in the early 20th century, Miller was first discovered by Condé Nast on the street in Manhattan in 1927, who urged her to model for his magazine Vogue. 

With her own ambitions to become a photographer, Miller left for France in 1929, where she worked and studied in Man Ray's studio for a year, before returning to New York to set up a studio of her own. 

In the summer of 1937, Lee Miller journeyed south with a Surrealist circle to the small hilltop village of Mougins, where Pablo Picasso and his then-lover Dora Maar were staying. Far removed from the ever worsening political situation in Europe, the group spent a carefree and creatively fertile summer together. Picasso, captivated by Miller's famed classical beauty, painted seven seated portraits of Miller in Arlésienne costume with a jubilant palette. 

Picasso and Miller reunited after Liberation of Paris

Other highlight lots that crossed the US$10 million mark:

Lot 14A | Cy Twombly | Untitled [Bolsena], Wax crayons, graphite, and house paint on canvas
Excuted in 1969
200 x 237.2 cm

  • Private collection
  • Plinio de Martiis, Rome
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from above by the late owner, 1999

Estimate: US$18,000,000 - 25,000,000
Hammer Price: US$17,000,000
Sold: US$19,960,000

Lot 8A | Roy Lichtenstein | Rouen Cathedral, Set IV, Triptych—oil and Magna on canvas
Painted in 1969
Each: 160 x 106.7 cm

  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Holly and Horace H. Solomon, New York (1969)
  • The Mayor Gallery, London and Anders Malmberg, Malmö (circa 1985)
  • Douglas S. Cramer, Los Angeles
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York (2000)
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2000

Estimate: US$18,000,000 - 25,000,000
Hammer Price: US$13,000,000
Sold: US$15,360,000

Lot 10A | Pablo Picasso | Cafetière, tasse et pipe, Oil on canvas
Painted in Paris in winter 1911
46 x 27 cm

  • Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris (acquired from the artist)
  • Alphonse Kann, Saint-Germain-en-Laye (acquired from the above, 1912)
  • Confiscated from the above by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR no. UNB 328, October 1940); Transferred to the German Embassy, Paris, and then to the Jeu de Paume, Paris
  • One of seven artworks included in Exchange #3 between the Einstatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg and Gustav Rochlitz, Paris, for paintings by Raffaellino del Garbo and Frans Wouters (17 March 1941)
  • Sold by Gustav Rochlitz to Isidor (Ignacy) Rosner, Paris
  • (probably) Pablo Picasso, Paris
  • Dora Maar, Paris (probably gift from the above, by circa 1945); withdrawn from her Estate sale, Piasa, Paris, 7 December 1998
  • Settlement reached between the Estate of Dora Maar and the heirs of Alphonse Kann (1999)
  • Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York and de Pury and Luxembourg Art, Geneva (on consignment from the above)
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 15 March 2000

Estimate: US$8,000,000 - 12,000,000
Hammer Price: US$9,500,000
Sold: US$11,335,000

Lot 11A | Japser Johns | Decoy, Oil and brass gromet on canvas
Executed in 1971
182.9 x 126.7 cm

  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Victor and Sally Ganz, New York (1972)
  • Estate sale; Christie's, New York, 10 November 1997, lot 31
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$12,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer Price: US$9,000,000
Sold: US$10,760,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's New York
Sale: Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection
Date: 11 May 2023
Number of Lots: 16
Sold: 16
Sale Rate: 100%
Sale Total: US$177,792,000