Mark Rothko painting sells for $45 million at Sotheby’s auction

A painting by Mark Rothko titled "No. 21 (Red, Brown, Black and Orange)" sold at a Sotheby's auction in New York for $45 million.
(Carl Court / Getty Images)

A canvas by Mark Rothko sold for $45 million and an American flag painting by Jasper Johns fetched $36 million Tuesday at a Sotheby’s auction of contemporary art in New York that featured nearly 80 works and brought in a total of $343.7 million.

The sum was considered unremarkable by some accounts, and several works by prominent artists failed to sell. The auction featured pieces by Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois and Ai Weiwei.

Rothko’s “No. 21 (Red, Brown, Black and Orange)” dates from 1953 and once belonged to the oil magnate Pierre Schlumberger and his designer wife, Sao. The $45-million selling price represented the largest sum of the evening, though it failed to exceed the high end estimate of $50 million, according to the New York Times.


“Flag” (1983) by Johns is one of the artist’s series of American flag renderings. The New York Times reported that the work was being sold by British artist Mark Lancaster, who had worked for Johns and acquired the canvas directly from the renowned artist.

The $36-million selling price exceeded the auction house’s estimate of $15 million to $20 million.

Other notable sales included an abstract canvas by Richter dating from 1991 that went for $21.4 million and an Elizabeth Taylor silkscreen by Warhol that fetched $31.5 million.

A 1981 painting by Wayne Thiebaud depicting Hill Street in San Francisco sold for $4.9 million, exceeding estimates.

Earlier this week, Sotheby’s sold all 43 lots in a sale of art from the collection of the late Rachel Lambert Mellon, better known as Bunny Mellon. That auction brought in a total of $158.7 million.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT