Essl Collection auction realises $75.3m as Frieze Week begins

Kicking off Frieze Week in London, Christie's offered the Essl Collection of post-war and contemporary art on October 13, setting two new artist records.

Gerhard Richter Clouds WindowWolken (Fenster), or Clouds (Window) is one of the largest and most important of Richter's landmark cloudscapes series, which he produced early in his career

The collection forms part of the Essl Museum in Vienna, and contains more than 7,000 works collected by DIY store chain owners Karlheinz and Agnes Essl since 1999. Totalling $75.3m, it was the highest value single-owner sale of post-war and contemporary art ever held at Christie's London.

It focused on German artists such as Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, with Richter's Wolken (Fenster) selling within estimate at £6.2m ($10m) - the top lot of the sale.

The sale was dominated by "arguably the greatest grouping of Polke works ever offered at auction", which totalled £16.2m ($26.1m). The top-selling piece was Indianer Mit Adler which made £5.1m ($8.2m).

Polke created the work in 1975, when he was one of the first artists to benefit from affordable air travel, leading to a series of life-changing trips abroad

However, the Essls have irked some collectors and art professionals, who criticise their collecting techniques and decision to sell such a large number of important works at the same time, fearing a saturated market.

"So many collectors buy only the 'greatest hits' of an artist, but I created a collection that reflected the diversity of artists' careers and went deeper than just the trophies," commented Karlheinz Essl, defending his collection in the Wall Street Journal.

The sale was a necessary move for Essl after his planned expansion of his DIY store chain failed, leaving the Essl Museum faced with closure.

"Christie's is delighted to secure the future of the Essl Museum with a very tightly curated selection of masterpieces of Post-War German Art, married with their American counterparts. In true museological fashion, they charted the evolution of art history since WW II," commented Francis Outred, the chairman and head of post-war & contemporary art at Christie's.

"In a month of retrospectives of Anselm Kiefer and Sigmar Polke in London, it was great to see outstanding prices achieved for Polke and Baselitz, which confirmed the growing market confidence in German Post-War art."

This was Baselitz's first sculpture. The self portrait stands 3m tall, with the arms behind his back holding a skull

Two auction records were set in the sale: Bernerd and Hilla Becher's Forderturme England made £242,500 ($389,698) to mark the highest sum seen at auction for their work, while George Baselitz's oil on cedar wood Meine neue Mutze made £1.4m ($2.2m) for the record in the medium by the artist.

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