ARTnewsletter Archive

Runaway Imp/Mod Sales: Quality Works Fuel High Prices

Christie’s and Sotheby’s presented strong Impressionist and modern evening sales on Nov. 1-2, bringing in nearly $300 million combined and selling 110, or 89 percent, of the 123 works on offer. Christie’s rang up a mid-estimate $160.9 million—its highest sale total since the market peak of the late 1980s—with 58, or 92 percent, of 63 lots

NEW YORK—Christie’s and Sotheby’s presented strong Impressionist and modern evening sales on Nov. 1-2, bringing in nearly $300 million combined and selling 110, or 89 percent, of the 123 works on offer.

Christie’s rang up a mid-estimate $160.9 million—its highest sale total since the market peak of the late 1980s—with 58, or 92 percent, of 63 lots selling. Sotheby’s brought in $130 million, outperforming its high estimate of $125 million and selling 52, or 86.7 percent, of 60 lots on offer.

After the Sotheby’s auction, London dealer Martin Summers noted the depth of bidding in the room and the number of dealers buying for inventory. Calling the results “astonishing,” Summers told ARTnewsletter they indicate that “fresh money is coming into the market.”

Christie’s won the majority of estate material this season, but both auction houses’ results were buoyed by sales of works from museum collections. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, sold $7.12 million worth of art at Christie’s, while works from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art brought in totals of $4.6 million and $11.4 million, respectively, at Sotheby’s.

At Christie’s, Estate Sales Prevail

The week began at Christie’s auction on Nov. 1 with properties from the estates of Chicago collectors Bette and Neison Harris and entertainment attorney Lee Eastman, as well as works sent for sale by Los Angeles real estate developer Edward R. Broida and MoMA. The healthy prices achieved overall indicate that the market for Impressionist and modern art “is firm and strong,” says New York dealer Franck Giraud. “There is always a great amount of interest in this area, but most of the time there is not the level of quality.”

Though most works attracted solid prices, 13 lots from the Harris estate— which Christie’s had won against competition from Sotheby’s by offering the consignors an undisclosed guarantee, reportedly around $60 million—saw mixed results. The group made a total of $41.56 million against an estimate of $51.8/71.8 million. New York dealer David Nash observed to ARTnewsletter that the collection of “very beautiful pictures didn’t really catch fire,” perhaps because they reflected a “slightly old-fashioned taste.”

Christie’s was aggressive in its $20/25 million estimate for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s 1886-87 La blanchisseuse, the star lot from the Harris collection that was painted when the artist was 23. His previous high at auction was $14.5 million, set in 1997.

Bidding was nonexistent in the room as auctioneer Christopher Burge ran up the price from $12 million to $19 million before hammering it down to an anonymous phone bidder for a record $20 million, or $22.4 million with premium.

Three major works from the Harris collection failed to sell: Henri Matisse’s 1919 Les marguerites (estimate: $10/15 million); and two works by Claude Monet—his 1869-70 Route à Louveciennes, effet de neige (estimate: $4/6 million) and his circa 1876 Le rosiers dans le jardin de Montgeron (estimate: $4/6 million).

Other works from the Harris collection that fetched strong prices: Pierre Bonnard’s circa 1930 Compotiers et assiettes de fruits was underbid by Nash and sold to New York’s Acquavella Galleries for $6.8 million (estimate: $5/7 million); and Joan Miró’s 1920 Nature morte au raisin also drew strong interest from a half-dozen buyers who bid up the price to a double-estimate $2.25 million. Burge noted after the auction that there was postsale interest in the lots that had failed to sell, suggesting that Christie’s would improve on the Harris result through private sales.

One of the evening’s highlights was Paul Cézanne’s circa 1873-77 Pommes et gâteaux (estimate: $3.5/4.5 million), offered by the heirs of the Paris art-dealing family Durand-Ruel. The picture was chased by a handful of bidders, from an opening bid of $2.4 million up to the $9.2 million hammer price ($10.3 million with premium) paid by French dealer Marc Blondeau.

Four paintings from the MoMA collection fell for a total of $7.1 million (combined estimate: $4.5/6.4 million), among them Théo van Rysselberghe’s 1892 Port de Cette, les tartanes, which sold for a record $3.15 million (estimate: $1.5/2 million).

Also popular was a 1907 Monet Waterlilies painting that fetched $14 million against a $10/15- million estimate, bettering its 1989 auction price of $11.5 million. Monet’s 1880 Le panier de pommes proved desirable to a phone bidder who paid a double-estimate $2.9 million to win it.

Across the board, works by Pablo Picasso drew intense interest. The artist’s 1954 Sylvette au fauteuil vert, a portrait of a pretty blonde with a high ponytail, sold for $8 million (estimate: $4/6 million). Two Picassos from the Eastman collection likewise drew strong prices. Picasso’s 1939 Buste de femme fetched $6.73 million (estimate: $3/5 million); and dealer David Nahmad gave

$2.6 million for his 1955 L’atelier (estimate: $1.5/2.5 million).

Altogether the seven Eastman artworks sold for a total of $16.46 million against a combined $11.9/18.6 million estimate. The Broida works, meanwhile, brought in a high-estimate total of $8 million for five sculptures, including Constantin Brancusi’s 1907-08 Le baiser, which realized $3.6 million (estimate: $3/4 million).

Nahmad was a major buyer at Christie’s, winning three works that included the Picasso from the Eastman estate. He also purchased Juan Gris’s 1915 Verre et carte à jouer for $2.48 million (estimate: $2.2/2.8 million), and Miró’s 1948 Le soleil rouge ronge l’araignée for $7.7 million (estimate: $6/8 million). Helly Nahmad of New York bought Miró’s Painting, which the artist had made and signed in 1925, and again in 1964, for $2.7 million (estimate: $1.5/2 million).

At Sotheby’s, a Picasso Watercolor Wins $13.7M

What Sotheby’s lacked in estate property it made up for in museum material being sold by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as well as works consigned by the descendants of automobile pioneer Henry Ford. Determined buyers turned out in force for the Nov. 2 sale, pushing past estimates and paying prices exceeding the firm’s highest expectations. Nash attributed Sotheby’s success in part to the momentum achieved at Christie’s the night before. “It is clear that there is less and less good material available and there is lots and lots of money around,” he says. “I think that carried them through.”

A Picasso watercolor, consigned by the heirs of Josephine and Walter Buhl Ford II, was the most coveted work of the evening. Six bidders pursued Picasso’s Nu Jaune, a 1907 study for the artist’s masterpiece Demoiselles d’Avignon. Olivier Berggruen, a son of Berlin art dealer and collector Heinz Berggruen, acquired it for $13.7 million, more than three times the high estimate.

Competition was also tough for Alexej von Jawlensky’s 1912 Sizilianerin mit Grünem Shawl (Sicilian Woman with Green Shawl), another work from the Ford collection that brought $5.16 million, well above the high estimate of $4 million. The six Ford works garnered a total of $23.72 million against a high estimate of $12.6 million.

Sotheby’s had guaranteed the Los Angeles County Museum of Art an undisclosed sum for six works from the museum’s collection that realized a total of $11.4 million (combined estimate: $7.24/10.88 million). The highest-priced work from the museum was Amedeo Modigliani’s 1916 Buste de Manuel Humbert, which earned $5.5 million (estimate: $4/6 million). Max Ernst’s 1925 La mer elicited interest from six bidders, among them the Nahmads, New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch and London dealer James Roundell. It sold for $968,000 to a phone bidder, making more than five times the high estimate of $180,000.

Two works offered by the Art Institute of Chicago achieved solid prices. Marc Chagall’s 1943 Le jongleur, which Sotheby’s had guaranteed, brought in $4 million, above the high estimate of $3.5 million, while Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s 1875 Portrait de Jeanne Sisley fetched $576,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000).

Works by Picasso continued to draw strong competition throughout the night. His 1956 studio scene Femme dans l’atelier took $2.98 million, comfortably above the high estimate of $2 million; and the neoclassic Tête de femme, 1921-22, made $3.37 million, more than twice its high estimate.

Also more than doubling expectations were Monet’s circa 1918-24 Le pont Japonais, which was pursued from $1.2 million up to its sale price

of $5.16 million (estimate: $1.5/2 million); Egon Schiele’s 1914 Selbstporträt als Heiliger Sebastian (Self-Portrait as St. Sebastian), which fetched $2.25 million (estimate: $750,000/900,000); and Conrad Felixmüller’s 1931 Clemens Braun, consigned by actor Sean Connery, which fell for $1.13 million (estimate: $300,000/400,000).

Four lots that had been sold at auction in the last decade largely held or increased their value: Monet’s 1908 Le Grand Canal made $12.89 million, exceeding the $11.5 million it had earned in 1989 (estimate: $12/16 million); Aristide Maillol’s bronze sculpture La Nuit, cast after 1944 and previously owned by Norton Simon, sold for $2.8 million, improving on the $2 million it made at Christie’s five years ago (estimate: $1.25/1.75 million); Berthe Morisot’s 1873 Cache-Cache—making its second appearance at auction since Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn paid $3.8 million for it at the Sotheby’s sale of works from the estate of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney in 1999 (see ANL, 6/1/99)—scored a record $5.16 million.

But the consignor of Matisse’s 1941 Robe jaune et robe arlequin (Nezy et Lydia), which sold for a mid-estimate $10.9 million (estimate: $9/12 million), wasn’t as fortunate. In 1999 the painting had realized £7.1 million (then around $11.3 million) at Sotheby’s London.