In a sign of the art market’s investor-fueled boom, Damien Hirst could be dethroned as the most-expensive living British artist. An oil painting of a rainbow-colored Canadian highway tunnel entrance by Peter Doig is “expected to reach in excess of £9 million,” according to Sotheby’s, which is hosting the auction of Doig’s work on June 30. (That would be $15.1 million in U.S. dollars.)
Hirst, now 49, set the current record on Sept. 15, 2008 (also the day Lehman Brothers collapsed) with the £10.3 million sale of a gold-horned calf preserved in formaldehyde. Then the market for Hirst works tanked. As Bloomberg Businessweek wrote in November 2012:
“According to data compiled by the firm Artnet, Hirst works acquired during his commercial peak, between 2005 and 2008, have since resold at an average loss of 30 percent. And that probably understates the decline—judging from the dropoff in sales volume, collectors aren’t bringing their big-ticket Hirsts to market. A third of the more than 1,700 Hirst pieces offered at auctions since 2009 have failed to sell at all—they’ve been ‘burned,’ in the terminology of the art world.”
Photograph by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images
Doig couldn’t be more different from Hirst, aesthetically or biographically. Born in 1959 in Edinburgh, he has painted landscapes that often evoke Edward Hopper and draw on Doig’s childhood in Canada. In 2002, Doig moved from London to Trinidad, where he’d also spent part of his youth, and set up his studio on the Caribbean island.
The painting for sale, Country-rock (wing mirror), was bought by its current owner in 1999, the same year Doig painted it. Like much of his other work, which often contains a lone figure, or nobody at all, it’s infused with melancholy. ”The rainbow tunnel off the Don Valley Parkway, or DVP, is a view immediately familiar to any Toronto resident,” the catalog note says. “Peter Doig’s mysterious landscape utterly encapsulates the familiar ennui of such peripheral spaces.”
If Doig does win the British crown, he’ll still be multiples behind the world’s top sellers. In November, a Jeff Koons sculpture, Balloon Dog, sold for $58.4 million at Christie’s in New York, then an auction record for a living artist. Koons displaced Gerhard Richter, whose painting Domplatz, Mailand sold for $37.1 million at Sotheby’s in May 2013.