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Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan (1962)

At Christie’s New York evening sale of post-war and contemporary art that took place in May, Twombly’s energetic, large-scale canvas Leda and the Swan climbed from the low $30 millions up to a $47 million hammer price, or $52.8 million with the buyer’s premium, a result squarely within its estimate of between $35 million and $55 million. Painted during the artist’s years in Rome, the work appeared on sale for the first time in 30 years.

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963)

Bacon’s triptych had once belonged to famed children’s books author Roald Dahl before passing to the seller who put it on the market at Christie’s this May, where it sold for a total $51.7 million, or $46 million before the buyer’s premium. That fell short of the work’s estimate, provided on request, in excess of $50 million. The portrait was the first painted of Bacon’s lover and muse, who according to (a likely false) legend met the artist while attempting a break-in of his studio.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled

The large, intense canvas of a skull on a bright-blue background had not been publicly exhibited in 35 years, according to Sotheby’s, and had been in the collection of Emily and Jerry Spiegel since it was purchased at Christie’s in May 1984 for $19,000. It was handed down to one of the couple’s two daughters, following the deaths of both Mr. and Mrs. Spiegel in 2009. Bidding began at $57 million, a sum that sounded a little cheeky at first, and drew murmurs from the crowd. The murmurs morphed into gasps as that figure, and with it Basquiat’s record, receded into history and the bidding soared. Almost immediately after the gavel fell, Yusaku Maezawa posted a photo on Instagram of himself taken with his prize during a previous trip to see it in New York. “When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible,” he wrote. Maezawa’s $110.4 million purchase, and a previous record-setting Basquiat purchase from 2016, are both destined for public display in Japan.

Qi Baishi, Twelve Landscape Screens (1925)

Twelve small ink-brush paintings by Qi, Twelve Landscape Screens, sold in December for $140.8 million (931.5 million yuan) at Poly Beijing, setting a record for a Chinese work of art sold at auction. One of his works, Eagle on Pine Tree (1950), had sold in 2013 for $55 million in Beijing, and various pieces by Qi sold for more than $230 million overall in 2016, according to The Guardian.  

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