By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Roy Lichtenstein's "Sleeping Girl" sold for nearly $45 million on Wednesday, setting a record for the pop artist at Sotheby's $267 million auction of postwar and contemporary art.
The 1964 canvas, executed in the artist's signature, commercially influenced comic-book style, made its high estimate with a hammer price of $40 million. Along with Francis Bacon's "Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror," it achieved the night's top price of $40 million, or $44,882,500 including commission.
The sale, which capped two weeks of sales at Sotheby's and rival Christie's that were marked by numerous records including the most expensive work ever sold at auction, took in $266,591,000, against a pre-sale estimate of $215 million to $304 million. Estimates do not include commission.
Forty-six of the 57 lots on offer found buyers, while three works each sold for more than $35 million, including Andy Warhol's "Double Elvis," which fetched $37 million. Sotheby's had estimated the work to sell for as much as $50 million.
The annual spring sales bore out auction officials' confidence that the art market would maintain its upward climb, defying an unsettled economy as seasoned bidders competed with new collectors for a limited offering of top-quality works.
Bidding at the auction was steady, if selective, and the top-priced works managed to achieve their pre-sale estimates, even if the mood was far from the free-wheeling, record-smashing affair that took hold on Tuesday at Christie's.
Christie's held the most successful postwar art auction in history, setting a record for any postwar work at auction with a $87 million Mark Rothko, and sold 95 percent of its offerings. Records were set for such blue-chip artists as Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein, Gerhard Richter and Alexander Calder.
Sotheby's had its own moment last week, achieving the highest price ever for any art at auction, when Edvard Munch's "The Scream" soared to nearly $120 million.
'GLOBAL DEMAND FOR MASTERPIECES'
Sotheby's officials, noting that its sale a year ago brought in $120 million, said they were more than satisfied with the sale.
"We are thrilled with tonight's result," said Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of contemporary art who served as auctioneer.
"The top end of the market performed beautifully ... due to a global demand for masterpieces that is almost unparalleled," he said. "We had global bidding on all the (top) lots," Meyer added.
Those included a new record for Cy Twombly, who died last year. "Untitled (New York City)" sold for $17.44 million, after an estimate of $15 million to $20 million, and was the sale's fourth most expensive work.
Other highlights included Richter's "Abstraktes Bild," which soared to $16.9 million, far more than the $9 million estimate, and another Lichtenstein, "Sailboats III," which fetched $11.8 million and also easily beat its estimate.
A new record was also set for dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, whose "Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)" installation sold for $782,500.
Other artists' records included Glenn Ligon, Mark Bradford and Isa Genzken.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)