Mark Rothko painting crowns New York art sale

Rothko's No 1 (Royal Red and Blue) - detail Rothko's No 1 helped Sotheby's achieve their best ever auction result

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A painting by abstract artist Mark Rothko has fetched $75.1 million (£47.2m) at an auction in New York.

Rothko's No 1 (Royal Red and Blue), described by Sotheby's as "a seminal, large-scale masterpiece", was the subject of a heated bidding war.

The price far exceeded the pre-sale estimate of $35m-$50m (£22m-£31.4m) but fell short of the record $86.9m (£54.6m) a Rothko fetched in May.

The sale also saw a 1951 Jackson Pollock work sell for $40.4m (£25.4m).

Pollock's Number 4, a characteristic drip painting, easily outstripped the previous highest price - $23m (£14.4m) - fetched at auction by a work by the abstract expressionist.

The Rothko painting was one of eight works hand-selected by the Russian-American artist for his landmark solo show in 1954 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

It had been in the same collection for 30 years before coming to auction.

Tuesday's sale of post-war and contemporary art at Sotheby's saw plenty of interest from investors, raising a total of $375m (£236m) - the best auction result in the auction house's history.

Andy Warhol had a strong showing, with Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) selling for $15.2m (£9.5m) and The Kiss (Bela Lugosi) fetching $9.3m (£5.8m).

Another Warhol work, Suicide, that had been estimated to sell for between $6m (£3.7m) and $8m (£5m) ended up going for $16.3m (£10.2m).

A "screaming pope" by British artist Francis Bacon sold for nearly $30m (£18.9m), a Willem de Kooning piece fetched just under $20m (£12.5m) while a work by Gerhard Richter went for $17.4m (£10.9m).

Franz Kline's Shenandoah fetched $9.3m (£5.8m), setting another artist's record.

"If you want to talk about the market being happy, healthy and well, here it is," said Sotheby's auctioneer Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of contemporary art.

"That's probably about as good as it gets."

Further high prices are expected at a second Sotheby's contemporary and post-war art sale on Wednesday, with two Christie's sales focusing on the same period also taking place in New York this week.

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