Mark Rothko's No 10 headlines New York sale

Mark Rothko's No 10 has become the second most valuable painting by the artist ever sold at auction.

The 1950 work realised $81.9m in Christie's post war and contemporary art evening sale on May 13.

Rothko 10 Christies
Rothko's work is highly coveted by collectors

Brett Gorvy, Christie's international head of post-war and contemporary art, commented: "No. 10 was painted the year Rothko began his iconic Seagram Murals, exploring a new language of forms and color harmonies…

"Instead of the more standard presentation of three floating elements, here Rothko creates a dominant upper form that expands like breath and floats impossibly above the darker form.

"Everything is encased in a black, which has been painted over a blue so that it too has definition despite its darkness. This is a truly mystical painting and one that is a total meditation on the infinite and the sublime."

Lucian Freud's Benefits Supervisor Resting set a new world record for the artist, achieving $56.1m. It exceeded the $33.6m paid in 2008 for the artist's previous record work, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, by 66.9%.

Gorvy continued: "The response that we saw to the sale this evening proves the sophistication, knowledge and competitive urge of many of our top buyers.

"They were pursuing not just great works but also great collections tonight, and showed they were willing to stretch and stretch some more to have the best."

The sale followed on from Christie's sale of Picasso's La Femme d'Alger for the world record sum of $179.3m. The auction house is the first to achieve sales of over $1bn in a single week.

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