Buyers have snapped up pieces from David Bowie’s vast personal art collection for a total of £24.3 million, after initial estimates predicted sales of between £8.1 million to £11.7 million. Of the first lot of works sold at Sotheby’s London in a three-part sale, a 1984 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat called Air Power sold for an unprecedented £7.1 million after intense bidding. Frank Auerbach’s painting Head of Gerda Boehm – a piece famously adored by Bowie – sold for £3.8 million, ten times its estimate and a record for the artist.
Along with the Auerbach piece, the first session of auctions for Bowie’s collection broke eleven records for 20th century British artists. Of the lots sold, a collaborative spin painting by Bowie and Damien Hirst, called Beautiful, hallo, space-boy painting, sold for more than double its estimate at £785,000. Works by Peter Lanyon, Bernard Leach, Winifred Nicholson, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Henry Lamb were also purchased by the highest bidders. Sotheby’s said the auction was a “white glove sale”, meaning every lot was sold.
The musician, who died in January aged 69, was a passionate collector of modern art and, during his life, kept his collection largely private. He said of his love of art in the New York Times in 1998: “art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own. It has always been for me a stable nourishment. I use it. It can change the way I feel in the mornings. The same work can change me in different ways, depending on what I’m going through.”
Collectors from 46 countries registered to bid for the 47 works on offer, after 37,000 people attended the display at Sotheby’s, the most visitors ever at a pre-sale exhibit in London. Oliver Barker, the chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, said: “David Bowie’s personal art collection captured the imagination of the tens of thousands who visited our exhibitions and the hundreds who took part in this evening’s sale. “Sotheby’s is truly honoured to have had the opportunity to share this collection with the world and, in doing so, offer a fresh insight into the creative mind of one of the greatest cultural figures of our time.”
A spokesperson for the Estate of David Bowie, which will receive the money raised at the auctions, said: “David always enjoyed sharing the works in the collection, loaning to museums and actively supporting the art and artists that were part of his world. “While the family have kept certain pieces of particular significance, now was the time for others to share David’s love for these remarkable works and let them live on.”
More of Bowie’s collection is due to be auctioned on Friday in two further sales. Meanwhile, an exhibition on the late music legend has set an attendance record as it has travelled on a worldwide tour. The V&A in London announced that the exhibition surpassed 1.5 million visitors at eight different locations, making it the most-visited show in the museum’s 164-year history.