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Strong Euro Favors European Buyers at $146M Imp/Mod Sales

The London sales for Impressionist and modern art turned in a steady performance on Feb. 7-8, realizing a combined total of £78.6 million, or $146.2 million, up from £72.5 million ($132.7 million) last year.

LONDON—The London sales for Impressionist and modern art turned in a steady performance on Feb. 7-8, realizing a combined total of £78.6 million, or $146.2 million, up from £72.5 million ($132.7 million) last year.

Buy-in rates also remained stable at about 22 percent on average, though the number of lots offered had crept up from 173 to 185. In all, 18

£1 million-plus sales were recorded, compared to 17 last February. Nonetheless the performance lagged behind June sales in London that totaled £90.5 million ($166 million) in the Part One sales, for only 106 lots offered as compared with 144 in the most recent round of auctions.

European buyers continue to dominate these sales while the dollar remains weak against the pound and the euro. Eighty-eight percent of lots at Christie’s and 70 percent at Sotheby’s Part One sales were bought by Europeans.

In terms of market share, it was a close-run contest, but Christie’s came out marginally ahead in the Part One sales by virtue of a slightly better performance in the Surrealist auctions.

Christie’s Garners $57.7 Million

Christie’s Part One Impressionist and modern art sale on Feb. 7 realized £30.8 million ($57.7 million) for 56 lots, with another £10.1 million ($18.8 million) added for a separate 41-lot catalogue of Surrealist art.

The Impressionist sale provided the top lot of the week in Chaim Soutine’s Le pâtissier de Cagnes, 1922-23, the only remaining “baker boy” painting left in private hands. (The other two examples are in the Barnes Collection, Philadelphia, and the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris.) Estimated at £3/4 million, it sold for a record £5 million ($9.4 million) to an anonymous buyer, who also bought Marc Chagall’s gouache Clown Musicien, 1937-38, for £321,600, or $598,170 (estimate: £200/300,000).

Otherwise it was Pablo Picasso who led the proceedings, accounting for five of the top ten lots. Eight of nine Picassos offered in the sale were sold. These included a 1923 neoclassical drawing of a standing nude, Femme nue tenant une serviette, sold for £321,600, or $598,170 (estimate: £200/300,000), to London dealer Stephen Somerville, bidding against collector Heinz Berggruen; and a 1944 still life, La cafetière bleue, bought by London’s Pyms Gallery for £904,000, or $1.7 million (estimate: £350/550,000); and the late Chat et homard, 1965, acquired for a double-estimate £2.2 million ($4.2 million) by a private buyer bidding on the phone against New York’s Acquavella Galleries.

The highest price for Picasso, though, was the even later Homme à l’épée, 1969, bought by a private European collector for £2.7 million, or $5 million (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million). Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen commented that late Picassos are now “hugely sought after by collectors of postwar modernism”—i.e., contemporary art collectors. The buyer of Homme à l’épée also acquired works by Damien Hirst, Alexej von Jawlensky and René Magritte that week.

There was a good supply of 19th-century works, though few were masterpieces. Gustave Caillebotte’s Portrait de jeune femme dans un intérieur, circa 1877, had been guaranteed and fetched £1.7 million, or $3.2 million (estimate: £1.5/2 million) from a private European collector. Another guaranteed Caillebotte, Promeneur au bord de la mer, 1885, fell to Dickinson Roundell below estimate for £456,000, or $848,160 (estimate: £500/700,000).

Returning to the market with an estimate of £600/800,000 after not selling in New York last May, when it was estimated at $1.8/2.5 million, was Paul Signac’s Herblay. Temps gris. Saules (Opus 205),1889, which surpassed the newly revised estimate when it fetched £960,000, or $1.8 million, from a European collector.

Also reentering the market after going unsold in 1994 with a $1/1.5 million estimate was an Edgar Degas pastel, Jeunes filles regardant un album, circa 1884. The work had been purchased after that sale by collector Dr. Gustav Rau, who died in 2002 and whose estate has been the subject of a complicated legal action. This work, however, together with a rare, early Divisionist picture by Italian Futurist Gino Severini, belonged to part of the Rau Foundation, which, according to Christie’s, is not affected by the dispute. The Degas work fetched £960,000, or $1.8 million (estimate: £700,000/1 million), while the Severini (estimate: £900,000/1.3 million) went unsold.

Adding depth to the 19th-century selection was a group of works from the descendants of Paris collector Adolphe Friedmann, who died in 1922. Among these were several works by Degas that had been acquired at the artist’s studio sale in 1918. Included was a drawing, Danseuse assise, réajustant son bas, circa 1880, which went to Geneva dealer Marc Blondeau for £220,800, or $410,680 (estimate: £70/150,000).

Other buyers at the sale: New York’s Acquavella Galleries bought a 1939 still life by Giorgio Morandi for £299,200, or $556,500 (estimate: £250/350,000); and Christie’s former Berlin representative Jorg-Michael Bertz acquired Alexander Archipenko’s late casting Gondolier, for £433,600, or $806,500 (estimate: £300/400,000). This bronze will have seen a small return for the vendor, who bought it in 1998 for some £350,000 (about $577,000); but several works, acquired in the past five years, failed to realize profits for their owners.

A 1930 still life by Georges Braque, bought in 2000 for more than £400,000, made only £254,400 ($473,200). A 1907-08 portrait, Fille mère, by Kees van Dongen, purchased in 2000 for £550,000 (about $852,000), failed to sell (estimate: £700,000/1 million). A circa 1914 Picasso still life, bought in 2001 for £130,000 ($182,000) at Phillips’ auction of works from the collection of Nathan and Marion Smooke, failed to make the low estimate of £250,000.

At Sotheby’s a Wide Spectrum to Choose From

Sotheby’s combined three separate categories —German and Austrian, Impressionist and modern, and Surrealist art—for its Part One sale on Feb. 8, which brought a grand total of £37.5 million ($69.7 million) for 88 lots offered.

The German and Austrian art section started well when Bertz bid a double-

estimate £624,000 ($1.2 million) for a circa 1912 Franz Marc painting on glass of his famous blue horses. Thereafter all but two of 27 lots were sold, the highest price a low-estimate £2.8 million ($5.2 million) for Max Beckmann’s decorative and angst-free Lady with a Mirror, 1943. Overall the German market looked strong, even though there were few other major works.

An indication that London is still the best location to sell came with a minor work, Egon Schiele’s watercolor Standing Woman in Profile, bought two years earlier at Villa Grisebach in Berlin for £12,500 and now sold for £60,000 ($116,000). Schiele was the artist with the most works in the sale, and while his small landscape View of Neulengbach Castle, 1911, failed to move (estimate: £500/700,000), his other works did. His drawing Seated Female Nude with Blue Headband, 1912, was sold above estimate for £344,000 ($640,000) to French art adviser Hugues Joffre.

Next to Schiele, Alexej von Jawlensky works were most in abundance, and all five found buyers. The most impressive result was for a Fauvist still life, Hyacinth, Blue Jug and Apples, circa 1912, selling for £624,000, or $1.2 million (estimate: £100/150,000), against spirited bidding from London dealer Hildegard Fritz-Denneville.

Good drawings by Otto Dix also performed well. Exotic Brothel, 1922, bought by U.S. collectors Marvin and Janet Fishman in 1994 for £121,000, fell to London dealer Richard Nagy, for £299,200, or $556,500 (estimate: £150/200,000).

Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art catalogue contained just a few good late Impressionist pictures, and they obtained strong results. Camille Pissarro’s Le carrousel, matin d’automne, 1899, trebled estimates to sell for £1.7 million ($3.2 million) to a phone bidder against London dealer Alan Hobart. A Degas pastel, Les trois danseuses jaunes, 1897, doubled estimates to sell to a European collector for £2.47 million ($4.6 million). Lesser works by Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir in the £500,000/£1 million range fell flat.

The sale was led by early Modernist Fernand Léger’s Nature morte à la lampe, 1914, which fetched £2.9 million, or $5.4 million (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million) from Zurich dealer Doris Ammann. She also won Picasso’s portrait of Marie Thérèse Walter, Femme se coiffant, 1935—last sold in New York in 2000 at £560,000—for £680,000, or $1.3 million (estimate: £550/650,000).

But two of the highest-estimated lots failed to sell—Picasso’s Femme au chapeau, 1947 (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million), and Pierre Bonnard’s big nude Dans le cabinet de toilette, 1907 (estimate: £2/3 million). (The Bonnard picture was thought to have conditional problems, according to trade sources.) Instead, the next-highest lot was Amedeo Modigliani’s unusually sculptural pair of paintings Deux Cariatides, 1911-12, which trebled the low estimate to sell for £2.7 million ($5 million).

Another work to soar above estimates was a Marino Marini bronze, Piccolo cavallo, 1950, which fell to dealer James Roundell, bidding against Ivor Braka, for £736,000, or $1.4 million (estimate: £350/450,000).

But it was a group of Picasso’s early colored drawings, acquired from the O’Hana Gallery in 1963 by the vendor, which excited the most competition. A 1901 self-portrait with Jaume Andreu Bonsons fetched £254,400, or $473,180 (estimate: £100/150,000) from U.S. collector John Hering, bidding against German collector Heinz Berggruen. A portrait of the artist’s sister Lola, Portrait de Lola, sœur de l’artiste, 1899-1900, was bought by Gilbert Lloyd of Marlborough Fine Art for £243,200, or $452,300 (estimate: £40/60,000). And a portrait of the Barcelona tailor Benet Soler Vidal, Portrait du tailleur Soler, 1900, also went to Lloyd for £254,400, or $473,180 (estimate: £60/80,000).

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