ARTnewsletter Archive

Spectacular Imp/Mod Sales Lure New Breed of Buyers

The Christie’s and Sotheby’s London auctions of Impressionist and modern art—including separate sales of German, Austrian and Surrealist art, as well as a private collection of paintings by Edvard Munch at Sotheby’s—yielded the highest combined total yet: £130 million ($228.2 million), compared with £78.6 million ($146.2 million) last year.

LONDON—The Christie’s and Sotheby’s London auctions of Impressionist and modern art—including separate sales of German, Austrian and Surrealist art, as well as a private collection of paintings by Edvard Munch at Sotheby’s—yielded the highest combined total yet: £130 million ($228.2 million), compared with £78.6 million ($146.2 million) last year.

“Demand has been strongest for works that are rare, of good quality and have a good provenance,” reported Melanie Clore, Sotheby’s cochairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide. Bidding, she says, came from “traditional centers such as America and Europe, but also from Russia and the Far East.” Sotheby’s total was £68.7 million ($120.2 million), nearly double the £37.5 million ($69.7 million) the house realized a year ago February.

Christie’s pulled in £61.6 million ($108.2 million), more than twice the £30.8 million ($57.7 million) total of last year. The house set a new record for Chaïm Soutine (£7.8 million or $13.8 million), and also noted bidding activity from Asia, the Middle East and Russia. Commented Jussi Pylkkänen, auctioneer and president of Christie’s Europe:“The market is strong yet still selective, with outstanding quality and works fresh to the market fueling fierce competition.”

Christie’s Savors ‘New Peak’ in Demand for German/Austrian Art

LONDON—As in previous seasons, Christie’s divided its sale on Feb. 6 into three sections. The most buoyant was arguably the first one—31 lots of German and Austrian art that fetched £24.5 million ($43.2 million). Christie’s highest total for a specialized German and Austrian auction was £32 million ($51.2 million) in 1997, but that was for a sale of 250 lots, signifying that this market is witnessing a new peak. The highest price was a top-estimate record £4.9 million ($8.6 million) for a double-sided canvas by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner—Woman in a White dress and Adam and Eve—bought by Christopher Eykyn and Nicholas Maclean, two former directors in Christie’s Impressionist department who recently formed a private dealership (see ANL, 11/22/05).

Further records to tumble in this section were for: a work on paper by Egon Schiele when Kneeling Female Half-Nude, 1917, was acquired by Abigail Asher of Asher, Guggenheim Associates for a double-estimate £4.1 million ($7.3 million); Heinrich Campendonk’s Cow with Calf, 1914, bought by a private Asian collector for £1.7 million, or $2.9 million (estimate: £700,000/1 million); Georg Kolbe’s 1922 bronze Tänzerin, which made a staggering £736,000 ($1.3 million), six times its low estimate; Käthe Kollwitz’s 1938 bronze The Lament, which went to Eykyn for £96,000, or $168,480 (estimate: £25,000/35,000)—a record for a sculpture by Kollwitz; and August Macke’s oil-on-paper Workers in the Field at Kandern, 1907, which set a mid-estimate record for a work on paper at £72,000 ($126,630).

Another strong performer was Paul Klee’s watercolor The Bell!, 1919, from the Heinrich Campendonk family collection, which fell to the dealer James Roundell for £254,400 ($485,784)—five times the low estimate. Roundell also picked up James Ensor’s Nos deux portraits, circa 1905, for a below- estimate £148,000 ($260,000).

The section was marked by both gains and losses. Among the top performers: Alexej von Jawlensky’s Dunkle Augen, 1912, which had been bought at Christie’s in 2001 for £773,500 ($1 million), fetched a top-estimate £3.1 million ($5.5 million). Another work that previously had been sold by Christie’s was Kirchner’s Street Scene, 1914-22; purchased for £1.7 million ($2.7 million) in 1997, it now sold for a mid-estimate £2.1 million ($3.75 million). Said auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen after the sale: “We knew where these pictures were and advised our clients it was a good moment to sell.”

However, Emil Nolde’s 1907 Irises (estimate: £900,000/1.2 million), which Christie’s had sold to a U.S. collector in 1997 for £950,000 ($1.5 million), failed to find a buyer. And a 1913 Max Pechstein landscape, Monterosso al Mare, bought in 2002 for £225,000 ($337,500), went for only £153,600 ($270,336).

Record for a Soutine Picture

Christie’s second section was devoted to 31 lots of mainstream European Impressionist and modern art, realizing £26 million ($45.8 million). The outstanding lot was Chaïm Soutine’s Le boeuf écorché, circa 1924, the only example from this series in private hands, which trounced the artist’s previous record when it made £7.8 million, or $13.8 million (estimate: £4.2/4.8 million). Four bidders were in pursuit at the £6 million bid, before the work fell to an anonymous buyer on the phone.

Other records set in this section were the top-estimate £1.2 million ($2 million) given by a phone buyer for Félix Vallotton’s oil En promenade, circa 1895; and the £568,000 ($996,800) bid by Asher for Gino Severini’s collage Nature morte à la Revue Littéraire “Nord Sud,” circa 1917.

Apart from a Camille Pissarro painting of barges on the Seine that failed to sell at £2/3 million, Impressionist paintings fared well—especially Edgar Degas’ Les pointes, 1877-78. Last sold at the artist’s studio sale in 1918, it won a triple-estimate £2.1 million ($3.7 million) from Maclean. He also was the underbidder on Pissarro’s Fenaison à Eragny, 1891, which sold above the high estimate for £1.35 million ($2.4 million).

A Paucity of Picassos

The number of good works by Pablo Picasso was surprisingly thin. An early gouache, Bouffon et jeune acrobate, 1905, which had failed before at auction, again went unsold (estimate: £1.5/2.5 million); but a later work, Le chien dalmate, 1959, saw competition between David Nahmad and Jose Mugrabi before falling to the latter for a mid-estimate £1.1 million ($1.9 million).

In the final section of the evening, Christie’s offered 39 lots of Surrealist art that brought £10.7 million ($18.9 million) and saw records broken for paintings by André Masson (£1 million, or $1.8 million), Oscar Dominguez (£344,000, or $603,720) and Hans Bellmer (£55,000, or $97,000). The Dominguez, which was estimated at £80/120,000, saw bidding from dealer Guy Jennings, Maclean and Paris dealer Daniel Malingue before falling to an unidentified bidder. Malingue was more successful with a 1926 relief by Jean Arp, which he secured for a mid-estimate £176,000 ($309,000).

Among the main buyers of Surrealist works was dealer Jan Krugier, who bought Untitled, a 1934 collage by Joan Miró, for £792,000, or $1.4 million (estimate: £100,000/150,000); Chessboard, 1937, by Marcel Duchamp, for £500,800, or $879,000 (estimate: £200,000/300,000); and La Pythie, ca. 1942, by Masson, for £84,000, or $147,420 (estimate: £60,000/80,000).

Also sitting it out to the end of the lengthy sale was Asher. Having underbid on Salvador Dalí’s 1935 drawing How Super-Realist Dali Saw Broadway, which made a triple-estimate £276,000 ($486,000), she won Duchamp’s 1934 editioned box The Bride Stripped bare . . . for a mid-estimate £72,000 ($126,000), as well as René Magritte’s 1946 gouache La saveur des larmes, 1946, for a low-estimate £210,000 ($486,000).

“There were bidders from 15 different countries tonight,” Pylkkänen reported after the sale. The buyer breakdown by lot was: 74 percent from Europe, including Russia; 24 percent from the Americas, including many buyers of the top lots; and 2 percent from Asia.