Mark Rothko's $75.1m No.1 propels Sotheby's to record auction

Mark Rothko's No.1 (Royal Red and Blue) has highlighted Sotheby's record breaking Evening Sale of Contemporary Art in New York.

The 1954 painting sold for $75.1m last night (November 13), demolishing its $50m high estimate by 50.2%, helping the auction house to its $375m grand total, the highest achieved by any auction in its 268 year history.

Mark Rothko No.1
Rothko's $75.1m No.1 (Royal Red and Blue)

The Russian born artist's world record remains intact, however. His Orange, Red, Yellow from 1961, which sold for $86.9m at Christie's in May, is also the world record for a contemporary artwork at auction.

No.1 (Royal Red and Blue) is one of eight works selected by Rothko for his famed show in 1954 at the Art Institute of Chicago, his first one-man exhibition at a major US gallery.

Of those eight works, just one other remains in private ownership outside of Rothko's family - a key factor in explaining the attraction of the piece to buyers.

The work had been under the same ownership for the past 30 years.

The sale also featured superb performances from Jackson Pollock's Number 4, 1951, which sold for $40.4m against a $35m high estimate, and Francis Bacon's Untitled (Pope), which achieved $29.8m, far above its $25m high valuation.

There were also several strong showings from Warhol works, including his $16.3m Suicide.

"If you want to talk about the market being happy, healthy and well, here it is," commented Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art.

"That's probably about as good as it gets."

Christie's has its opportunity to capitalise on the strength of the contemporary art market tonight, when a Jean-Michel Basquiat is expected to excel.

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