Mark Rothko work sold for record $86.9m at auction

Orange, red, yellow by Mark Rothko Orange, red, yellow was painted in 1961

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Mark Rothko's Orange, red, yellow has been sold for $86.9 million (£53.8m) - the highest price ever fetched by a piece of contemporary art at auction.

The 1961 painting went under the hammer at Christie's in New York.

The auction house said the sale's total takings - $388.5m (£240.5m) - exceeded the previous record for a contemporary art auction, set in 2007.

Last week a version of Edvard Munch's The Scream set a new world record after selling at auction for $119.9m (£74m).

Prior to Tuesday's sale, the most paid for a Mark Rothko work at auction was $72.84m (£45m).

Francis Bacon's Triptych held the previous record for a piece of post-war art, having sold for $86.3m (£53.4m) in 2008.

The seven-minute auction saw the hammer drop at $77.5 m (£48m) before commission

A total of 14 artists recorded new highs for their works on Tuesday, with only three of the 59 lots on offer failing to sell.

Among the new records set include the $36.5m (£22.6m) paid for Yves Klein's FC1, a piece created with water, two models and a blowtorch shortly before the French artist's 1962 death.

Jackson Pollock's Number 28, 1951, one of the artist's seminal drip paintings, fetched $23m (£14.2m), while an untitled 1980 work by Willem de Kooning went for $14.1m (£8.7m).

Another high-profile contemporary art auction takes place on Wednesday, when Roy Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl goes under the hammer at Sotheby's in New York.

The estimated value for the 1964 "Pop Art" piece has been put between $30m (£18.5m) and $40m (£24.7m).


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  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Christies and Sothebys must be having a great time with all those wealthy morons out there !

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    As many art students have testified on this blog if they submitted a piece like this for their A-Level it would fail. I’ve seen Yayoi Kusama’s work and you can see the progression in her work but even a canvas filled with coloured dots takes little painting talent and more talent in philosophy and story. Mark Rothko's work I feel is the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Why don't we get the BBC to re-create the Gallery (a la Tony Hart) and everyone gets to submit a picture, with name and age and they can have it critiqued... if people think they or the kids could do better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.


    One thing to remember is that he was one of the first to do this type of art. It probably is reletively simple to copy work of this style, but credit always has to be given to the pioniers of a style.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.


    "Anyone who thinks this is easy to paint is completely wrong! This takes so much skill."

    This is exactly what I say to my wife when she threatens to paint the lounge - last time she tried it she got paint EVERYWHERE except the walls - so you're probably right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    re167 laurence
    lol-it is easy to paint! go look at Rothko in the flesh and you will see how easy it is to paint.This is why most people do not consider it art and get annoyed by pompous art critics and luvvies who insist it is.I wouldn't dream of insulting people's intelligence with this crud that my five year old daughter has created in primary school

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    10. albert_farqwitte
    "To all you Philistines out there, how can you doubt the absolute genius of this man?
    $86m for a doing an A2 sized orange painting
    I am working my nuts off 6 or 7 days a week painting entire houses for a fraction of that."

    Agreed. You have to have some sort of begrudging respect for someone who makes obscene amounts of money for what essentially qualifies as blagging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    @ 225. Xander

    "Please do a Google Images search on Mark Rothko to see the mind-blowing breadth of this genius' expansive imagination."

    If you want to see some breadth google "early Rothko". Google brings up the most famous images, this style is what he is known for, you need to do a bit more of an inteligent search to find the less well known stuff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    For my Art GCE I painted the entire canvas in blue and then added an orange square for good measure.

    It took me 15 minutes and then spent the rest of the exam twiddling my fingers.

    I didn't get paid £53.8m for it nor did I even pass the exam - where's the justice in that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Horsell Common and the Heat Ray.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    #222 It would BUILD a hospital in the UK. It wouldn't run it. I'm curious why you think someone presumably none-British should be obliged to build a hospital or 'wipe out child mortality in Africa' (unlikely BTW £50M won't find a cure to AIDS or Malaria). I'd also remind you that Warren Buffet, Bill Gates etc HAVE pledged a huge chunk of their wealth to charities. Billions not £50M

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    6 Minutes ago
    @ 208.U5755491
    "Well seeing as the Buyer is not mentioned in the article, you are in no position to guarantee anything at all about them."

    His guarantee was that the buyer had not worked harder than a hundred people for 45 years, seems pretty safe to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Please do a Google Images search on Mark Rothko to see the mind-blowing breadth of this genius' expansive imagination.

    I could understand if the one recently sold was a one-off, capturing a particular mood or object. It would mean something. But this man seems to have built his career on one idea; an idea that requires absolutely no talent. That is why I do not like this picture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    @ 222. U2685397

    How do you know that the buyer does not spend an equal or greater amount on charity? Nothing about the buyer is mentioned.

    On the normal person scale, do you really need another pair of jeans or a few pints on Friday? That money could help provide clean water in Africa. I know nothing of how you spend your money and you know nothing of how the buyer spends his.

  • Comment number 223.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    Regardless of whether it's a classical masterpiece or some modern art, no single painting is worth this amount of money. it's obscene that someone could pay so much for a piece of canvas, regardless of what's on there. The same money could build a hospital in the UK or wipe out child mortality in a small African nation. Unbridled capitalism has warped humankind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    People spend thousands on designer clothes when similar items of clothing could be bought for much less. Clothing lines, like art are not actually worth that amount of money but we buy them anyway. People create things sometimes to make money and the monetary value is decided by society. Although nobody would argue that this money could be better spent (e.g. to save lives), the buyer has the cash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    #208 Maybe their grandfather was Henry Ford? Maybe they bought a farm in texas that was on top of a sea of oil. There are many way to end up rich (and BTW I'd argue that someone like Bill Gates works a damn site harder than me) . My point remains the same. Its not my business or yours how someone else spends their money. I'd be curious what you feel the 'correct' amount someone earns is too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    @ 208.U5755491

    Well seeing as the Buyer is not mentioned in the article, you are in no position to guarantee anything at all about them.
    Whether they got the money by being innovative, inventive, smart, or just lucky is something neither of us know the answer, so instead of making wild accusations maybe stick to what you actually know rather than let your jealousy guide your comments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    "Contemporary painters are too influenced by hallucinatory narcotics as LSD, methamphetamine, and hashish." says sean33z.

    He died 40 years ago and he didn't take drugs. So he was not contemporary and not under the influence.

    Try to avoid posting the first thing that comes into your head.


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