Edward Hopper’s “Chop Suey” Sells for $91.9 Million at Christie’s Sale of Ebsworth Estate
Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929. Courtesy of Christie’s.
Chop Suey, the iconic 1929 Edward Hopper painting that is the last of the artist’s best-known 1920s works in private hands, sold for $91.9 million with fees at Christie’s on Tuesday. The result more than doubled the artist’s previous record and established a new all-time high for work in the category of American art, though not for an American artist—an honor held by Jean-Michel Basquiat since his untitled skull painting sold for $110 million last year at Sotheby’s.
The Hopper came during a special evening sale of works from the collection of the late cruise ship magnate Barney A. Ebsworth, which pulled in $317.8 million. That figure put the sale within the 90-lot estate’s $258.3 million to $364 million estimate. All but one of the remaining lots will be sold during a day sale Wednesday, with a final held for the spring evening sales in New York.
The haul has already made Ebsworth’s among five highest-grossing estates of all time, the auction house said. Other high-priced lots included a work by Willem de Kooning that sold for $68.9 million with fees, establishing a new auction record for the artist, and a Jackson Pollock drip painting that sold for $55.4 million with fees, $3 million short of the artist’s record.
Lots with estimates in the eight figures and above attracted just a few bids apiece, indicating little depth in the well of collectors able or willing to pursue trophy works at the highest level thus far this auction season. Nonetheless, 13 artist records were set, and, on several occasions, frenzied action on lower-priced lots pushed hammer prices to three or four times the high estimate.
Willem de Kooning, Woman as Landscape, 1954–55. Courtesy of Christie’s.
Jackson Pollock, Composition with Red Strokes, 1950. Courtesy of Christie’s.
- Edward Hopper’s Chop Suey (1929) had some auction specialists speculating before the sale that a duel between mega-collectors of American art could push the bidding past the high estimate of $100 million. Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkänen was the auctioneer for the evening, and opened at $45 million. Deputy chairman Eric Widing and post-war and contemporary department chairman Loïc Gouzer traded bids on behalf of buyers on the phone, going back and forth in increments of $5 million and then $2 million. Gouzer’s bidder offered $85 million, and Widing, who worked closely with Ebsworth during his lifetime to acquire work for his collection, eventually shook his head, indicating he was out. Gouzer’s client claimed the work at a $85 million hammer, or $91.9 million with fees.
- Willem de Kooning’s Woman as Landscape (1954–55) hammered right above the work’s low estimate of $60 million after a curious move by post-war and contemporary department chairman Alex Rotter. He already had the winning bid of $60 million when he told Pylkkänen that he had another totally separate bidder coming in on his phone, at $61 million. It hammered there, coming to $68.9 million with fees, the highest price paid for a work by de Kooning at auction. Several de Kooning works have traded privately for much higher, however, including Interchange (1955), which the founder of $30 billion hedge fund Citadel, Kenneth Griffin, purchased from David Geffen for $300 million in 2016.
- Jackson Pollock’s Composition with Red Strokes (1950) was nabbed by dealer Doris Ammann, who was sitting in the front row, for $49 million at the hammer, just below its $50 million pre-sale estimate. The final price with fees was $55.4 million. Just a few lots earlier, Ammann beat out Gouzer to score Alexander Calder’s Hen (1943) for a $7.2 million hammer, or $8.4 million with fees.
The salesroom was lively with popping paddles when works at lower price points came on the block, resulting in the slew of artist records, including Arshile Gorky, Joseph Stella, Leon Polk Smith, George Tooker, and Tom Otterness. The Otterness sculpture Large Bear (2000) hammered at $1.25 million, twice the high estimate of $600,000, selling to Pyms Gallery. With fees, the price was $1.5 million. Ellsworth Kelly’s Red White (1963) went for more than two-and-a-half times its high estimate of $900,000, hammering at $2.4 million, or $2.9 million with fees.
But when it came to Chop Suey, dealers present said there are only so many collectors who would spend this much on such a work. Gagosian director Andrew Fabricant said that Christie’s also had the challenge of selling a work by an artist with a market untested at this level—his previous record was $40.5 million—whose distinctly American ethos may not have as wide an appeal to collectors in Europe or Asia as other works on offer this week.
“$85 million is a good price considering the interest was bound to the continental U.S.,” Fabricant said as he was leaving the salesroom. “The interest was there, but it’s not that international.”
Arshile Gorky, Good Afternoon Mrs. Lincoln, 1944. Courtesy of Christie’s.
After two nights of tepid Impressionist and modern art sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s marked by lower participation from Asian bidders, at least one important region’s collectors see a strong market going into the contemporary sales that occur over the next three days.
At the post-sale press conference, Marc Porter, the chairman of Christie’s Americas, confirmed that the bidding was 80% American, 20% the rest of the world. But when asked about the identity of the buyer for the Hopper, Widing said they wished to remain anonymous. He added, intriguingly, that he hoped to see it hanging somewhere soon. Pressed to give at least some information on the region that the buyer is from, Porter said, cheekily, “Well, there’s an 80% chance they’re American!”
Approached at the entrance to the Rockefeller Center headquarters of Christie’s, Pylkkänen said that the all-American spread of artists on offer on Tuesday night contributed to the unusually high percentage of bidding from the U.S. for a sale at this level.
“When you have a collection in the top five estate sales of all time, it’s an indication that American collectors are passionate about their own paintings,” Pylkkänen said.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Otterness Sculpture hammered at $1.2 million; the sculpture hammered at $1.25 million. Additionally, the work was purchased by Pyms Gallery, not Acquavella Galleries. The text has been updated to reflect these changes.