Abstract Expressionist works are selling at record highs, the auction house said, and its $40 million estimate of "White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)," a 1950 painting Rockefeller acquired for $10,000 in 1960, is nearly twice the previous auction record for a Rothko painting -- $22.4 million, set at Christie's in 2005, The New York Times said Wednesday.
While experts at both houses said they offered Rockefeller a guarantee -- a minimum sum the seller receives regardless of a sale's outcome -- market experts and dealers said Sotheby's outbid Christie's with a guarantee of $46 million.
Rockefeller first turned to the Museum of Modern Art, the recipient of his largesse through the years.
John Elderfield, MoMA's chief curator of painting and sculpture, said Rockefeller had called him before consigning the painting to Sotheby's for its May 15 sale.
"He asked me if this was something we had to have," Mr. Elderfield said. "We don't need it. We already have five Rothkos from the 1950s."
"I've given the Modern a great many paintings and am giving them more," Rockefeller said, "I can use the proceeds for other things."