Jean Michel-Basquiat, Untitled 1982. Source: SOTHEBY'S
Jean Michel-Basquiat, Untitled 1982. Source: SOTHEBY'S

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting of a skull sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s in New York, setting an auction record for American artists and providing a windfall for the daughter of two collectors who purchased it for $19,000 in 1984.

The buyer was billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, founder of a Japanese fashion website, and a new force in contemporary art. The work led four days of bellwether auctions in New York where the world’s wealthiest investors and families dropped more than $1.5 billion on Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art. The results surpassed the target of $1.3 billion and the series conclude on Friday.

Basquiat’s canvas was last purchased at auction three decades ago by the late New York collectors Jerry and Emily Spiegel. It then disappeared from the public view until the couple died in 2009 and their art trove passed on to their two feuding daughters, according to people familiar with the matter.

The elder daughter, Pamela, consigned 107 works to Christie’s, which has sold about 50 lots for $125 million so far this week. The younger daughter, Lise, raised almost as much by selling just one painting -- the Basquiat -- at Sotheby’s. Arthur Sanders, Pamela’s husband, declined to comment on the sale. A representative for the other sister wasn’t immediately able to comment.

Read more about the Spiegel family’s collection here

The Basquiat propelled Sotheby’s auction results to $319 million in sales, a 32 percent increase from a year ago. Fifty lots were offered and all but two sold.

The bidding for the painting started on May 18 at $57 million, sparking gasps in the packed salesroom, and lasted for more than 10 minutes as three parties chased after the work. The result ended up smashing Andy Warhol’s $105.4 million auction record and making Brooklyn-born Basquiat the most expensive American artist at auction. Basquiat died in 1988.

“I remember astounding the art world back in 1980s when I set an auction record for Basquiat at $99,000,” said Jeffrey Deitch, an art dealer who was the artist’s friend and champion. “All of us, Jean-Michel’s friends, we totally believed in his genius. I always thought he would be one day in the league of Picasso, Bacon and Van Gogh. The work has that iconic quality. His appeal is real.”

Sotheby’s had valued the work at more than $60 million and guaranteed the seller an undisclosed minimum price regardless of the bidding at the auction. Maezawa purchased a separate painting by the artist last year for $57.3 million.

Other Billionaires Bought and Sold Art...

Earlier on Thursday, casino magnate Steve Wynn, who is worth an estimated $2.6 billion, anonymously sold an abstract painting by Willem de Kooning at Phillips auction house, according to people familiar with the matter. Wynn’s work helped Phillips achieve one of its highest totals in the past decade. The boutique auction house tallied $110.3 million from sales, more than doubling its result from a year ago and selling all 37 lots it offered. Wynn and Phillips declined to comment.

Artist: Willem de KooningArtwork: "Untitled II" (1980)Sale price: $13.1 million Sale estimate: $12 million-$18 millionPrevious auction record for artist: $66.3 millionGuarantee: Yes

"Untitled II" 1980. Source: PHILLIPS

On May 17, London-based jeweler and billionaire Laurence Graff bought two paintings from the Spiegel collection at Christie’s totaling $22.1 million.

Artist: Andy WarholArtwork: "Last Supper" (1986)Sale price: $18.7 millionSale estimate: $6 million-$8 millionAuction record for artist: $105.4 millionGuarantee: Yes

"Last Supper". Source: CHRISTIE'S

The Warhol painting was the top lot of the Spiegel collection at Christie’s and Graff outbid at least two other rivals to win it -- adding a second Last Supper by the artist to his collection.

“I wanted it from the moment I saw it,” he said of the pink canvas. “It had to be mine. I paid full price. But the next one will be more.”

Artist: Francis PicabiaArtwork: "Adam et Eve"Sale price: $3.4 millionSale estimate: $1.5 million-$2 millionAuction record for artist: $8.8 millionGuarantee: Yes

"Adam et Eve". Source: CHRISTIE'S

"This Picabia is the masterpiece of his career,” said Graff.

- Bloomberg

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