Sotheby's and Christie's auctions within estimates

LONDON (Reuters) - Christie’s and Sotheby’s held post-war and contemporary art sales in London Friday and both auctions came close to the top end of expectations.

The world’s biggest auction houses combined their sales with Italian art in 2009, making year-on-year comparisons difficult.

But while the tallies will come as a relief to both companies, the size of the auctions was well down on recent years and reflected what industry insiders described as the “new reality” in contemporary art.

Values for works have fallen, but not collapsed, while sellers have been reluctant to offer the best art during uncertain economic times, leading to significantly reduced volumes.

Sotheby’s raised 20.2 million pounds ($32.8 million), within expectations of 15.6 million-21.6 million pounds. The result includes buyers’ premium, but the pre-sale estimate does not.

The auction combined contemporary, 20th century Italian and Arab and Iranian art.

The top lot on the night was “Fuego Flores” by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which fetched 960,000 pounds, and a new auction record in sterling terms was set for Chris Ofili with his “Afro Apparition” going for 577,000 pounds.

Christie’s raised just over 17 million pounds ($27.7 million) at its evening sale, compared with expectations of 13.3-18.9 million.

The post-war and contemporary section of the auction saw an unusually high number of U.S. buyers, a spokesman said.

The top lot was Martin Kippenberger’s “Paris Bar” which went under the hammer for 2.3 million pounds, comfortably above its pre-sale estimate of around one million pounds. It was the second highest price for the artist at auction.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Angus MacSwan