Auction  October 7, 2020  Rozalia Jovanovic

T. Rex Skeleton Sells for Record-Breaking $31.8 Million at Christie's


"Stan" the Tyrannosaurus rex, discovered by Stan Sacrison, spring 1987. Excavated by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, South Dakota, 1992.
Estimate: $6,000,000 - 8,000,000
Sold: $31,847,500

A 67-million-year-old dinosaur fossil known as “Stan” was the star of the show at Christie’s last night when it sold for $31,847,500 after a protracted bidding war between buyers on the phone in New York and London. Among the 46 lots in the 20th Century Evening Sale, including standout works by Cy Twombly, Picasso, and Mark Rothko, the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, the last lot of the evening, caused the most excitement when it sold for nearly four times its high estimate of $8 million to James Hyslop, head of Christie’s Science & Natural History Department. The sale beat the last record of $8.36 million set in 1997 for an equivalent T. Rex specimen.


Skull of "Stan" the Tyrannosaurus rex, discovered by Stan Sacrison, spring 1987. Excavated by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, South Dakota, 1992.

The dinosaur was the cherry on top of this broad-ranged hybrid-style sale, which featured works spanning periods from post-war and contemporary to Impressionist and modern, bringing in a total of $340,851,500, including the buyer’s premium, with an 84 percent sell-through rate by lot and 96 percent by value. Last November, the post-war and contemporary sale at Christie’s brought in $325 million.

Noting the current climate, Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti said the results are “very strong.” “In this market, we can see that innovation, flexibility are key concepts,” Cerutti said at a post-sale press conference online. “We needed to break the boundaries, by mixing Impressionist and modern categories with post-war and contemporary art” and adding Stan at the end for a “thrilling finale.”


Cy Twombly (1928-2011), Untitled (Bolsena), 1969.
Estimate: $35,000,000 - 50,000,000
Sold: $38,685,000

Another work that created energy was Cy Twombly’s 1969 work Untitled (Bolsena), which led the sale when it brought in $38,685,000, with fees. Other major works included Mark Rothko’s 1967 Untitled, which featured the artist’s signature blocks of color—one magenta the other black—floating against a red background, which realized $31,275,000 after lackluster bidding. The work is one of four vibrant works Rothko painted after completing the dark meditative works for the Rothko Chapel. Picasso’s portrait of Dora Maar, Femme dans un fauteuil (1941), realized $29.5 million. Paul Cezanne’s Nature morte avec pot au lait, melon et sucrier, another anticipated lot, brought in $28.6 million breaking the auction record for a work on paper by the artist. A record was also set for Emil Nolde’s Herbstmeer XVI, an oil painting with a hand-carved frame, which sold for $7.3 million.


Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Femme dans un Fauteuil, 1941. 
Estimate: $20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Sold: $29,557,500

Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition (1946), an important early work by the artist, which was once owned by the venerable dealer Peggy Guggenheim who was a friend and mentor to the artist, offered from the Everson Museum of Art to raise funds to diversify its collection, sold for $13 million. Marking the transition from his more figurative work to his drip paintings, for which he would become known, the painting represents his freedom from the brush. “It’s extraordinary,” said curator and dealer Jeffrey Deitch during an online conversation before the sale with Christie’s Marc Porter and journalist Melanie Gerlis. “It’s 1946. It’s on the brink of Pollock’s great accomplishment.”


Jackson Pollock, Red Composition, 1946.
Estimate: $12,000,000 - 18,000,000
Sold: $13,000,000

For its first auction of the fall season, which was live-streamed from the auction house’s Rockefeller Center saleroom, Christie’s saw some 280,000 viewers tuning in for the sale, more than three times the number it had for its July sale and a “far larger audience than we’ve ever experienced,” according to Alex Rotter, who together with Giovanna Bertazzoni heads up a united Impressionist & Modern and Post-War & Contemporary Art department, a new development as of June. There were buyers from 25 countries bidding across five continents according to Bertazzoni who said it was a big night for Americans who were “audacious,” making up 70 percent of bidders.

In a nearly seamless theatrical display, carried out with the help of production company Gradient Experiential, there were effects like split screens (to hone in on the bidding battles of competing specialists), sparkling jewels borrowed from another sale, and market specialists chiming in with whispered commentary a la John McEnroe at the U.S. Open. And for the pre-sale conversation mentioned above, Porter was seemingly seated on a stage with Deitch and Gerlis, but they were all filmed against greenscreens, Porter and Deitch in New York in different rooms and Gerlis in London.


Vija Celmins (b. 1938), Untitled (Ocean), 1968.
Estimate: $3,000,000 - 5,000,000
Sold: $3,030,000

Another outcome of the current economic situation was the shaking up of the calendar. While normally, in October, the house would have a much smaller mid-season sale, this fall, the sale has been split into two parts, with the second half taking place in late November or early December.

About the Author

Rozalia Jovanovic

Rozalia Jovanovic is a writer and editor born and raised in New York who has covered the art world for nearly a decade. She has been the Editor-in-Chief of artnet News and digital director of Galerie magazine. A MacDowell fellow, Rozalia studied art history and communications at the University of Pennsylvania and received an MFA in fiction from Columbia University.

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