Barnett Newman painted this masterpiece, ‘Onement VI’, in 1953. It sold for close to US$44 million (S$55 million) this week at an auction (Photo: Barnett Newman Facebook page)

A blue painting with a white line down the middle of it sold for nearly US$44 million (S$55 million) at a Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale in New York this week.

 ‘Onement VI’, an abstract work in dark blue done in 1953 by American artist Barnett Newman, sets an artist record for the most expensive Newman painting ever – eclipsing the painter’s previous auction record by a margin of more than US$20 million, a press release from the auction house stated.

It had earlier estimated that the painting would be sold between US$30 and 40 million.

Newman, who died in 1970 at the age of 65, is considered to be one of the major figures of the American post-World War II abstract expressionism movement.

Sotheby’s said the painting is the most important work by the artist ever to appear at an auction, and “stands as a masterwork not only of Newman’s artistic enterprise, but of the entire Abstract Expressionist movement”.

In the Sotheby’s catalogue notes, it described that the painting “overwhelms and seduces the viewer with the totality of its sensual, cascading washes of vibrant blue coexisting with Newman’s vertical ‘Sign’ of the human presence, his iconic and revolutionary ‘zip’ (stripe down the canvas).”

The sale was part of a larger auction of contemporary art that brought in a total of US$293.6 million.

The sale included an auction record for German visual artist Gerhard Richter, whose photo-painting ‘Domplatz, Mailand’ fetched US$37.1 million.