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Painting from Clapton's collection nabs record price

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 11:27 AM EDT, Sat October 13, 2012
Gerhard Richter's 'Abstraktes Bild (809-4)' is one in a sequence of four by the artist.
Gerhard Richter's 'Abstraktes Bild (809-4)' is one in a sequence of four by the artist.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oil on canvas painting by Gerhard Richter fetches $34 million
  • An unnamed telephone bidder made the winning offer
  • The painting sold for one-tenth as much in 2001
  • The work of two other artists fetched career record sums

(CNN) -- British guitarist Eric Clapton added a few million pounds to his fortune Friday, when a painting out of his private collection garnered a record sum at auction in London.

"Abstraktes Bild (809-4)" by German painter Gerhard Richter sold for more than $34 million, the highest price ever for work by a living artist, Sotheby's said.

The record sum ballooned the monetary value of the painting by over tenfold from its previous auction price in 2001, when it sold within a group of three paintings from the 809 series that together fetched a total of $3,415,750.

In a five-minute bidding battle, an unnamed caller beat out two competitors, who also phoned in their offers, to take Richter's work, which translates into English as "Abstract Picture (809-4)", for up to double the sum the auction house estimated it would take.

Clapton memorabilia auction nets $1.77 million

Sotheby's originally placed the current value of the 1994 oil on canvas work at anywhere between $14 and $19 million, well below the final record bid of $34,190,756. The old record for a work by a living artist was set in May 2010, when American artist Jasper John's painting "Flag," a depiction of the Stars and Stripes, sold for $28,642,500 at Christie's in New York, the auction house said.

The record-breaking painting is one in a sequence of four. Another from Richter's 809 series, "Abstraktes Bild (809-2)" fetched $3,119,403 at the same auction on Friday, Sotheby's said.

Two additional artists achieved career record sums for their works at the auction, though nowhere near the mammoth figure Richter's 809-4 took. A painting titled "MLR" by German artist Isa Genzken went for $425,355 and "Endless Knott" by Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso pulled down $271,409.

Richter, who is 80, is famous for dreamlike photo realistic paintings but also for colorful abstract works. He created his 809 series by painting abstract images with mainly primary colors then scraping over them with a squeegee-like object.

Richter has compared art to "the religious search for God," in a collection of his quotes published on his website.

Richter holds all artists in the highest religious esteem: "Now there are no priests or philosophers left, artists are the most important people in the world," according to a quote on his website from 1966.

As to who may be the most important living artist - at least now the money is on Richter.

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