ARTnewsletter Archive

U.S. Buyers a ‘Strong Presence’ at Sotheby’s $278.6M Imp/Mod Sale

Sotheby’s kicked off the spring season with an evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on May 8 that realized $278.6 million, the second-best total in the house’s history (the highest was $286.2 million, in 1990). Fueled by international bidding, the auction was more than 90 percent sold by lot and by value, and 36

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s kicked off the spring season with an evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on May 8 that realized $278.6 million, the second-best total in the house’s history (the highest was $286.2 million, in 1990). Fueled by international bidding, the auction was more than 90 percent sold by lot and by value, and 36 works brought more than $1 million each. Combined with day sales on May 9, Sotheby’s Impressionist total was $337.2 million.

Sotheby’s worldwide chairman of Impressionist and modern art David Norman said the house was “ecstatic” about the results. And noting a trend that accelerated as the two-week series of auctions progressed, Sotheby’s vice president August O. Uribe commented, “We saw an increased level of participation from an ever-expanding non-American client base. The current exchange rate bolstered the confidence of bidders who are accustomed to spending the euro and the British pound.” Nonetheless, Uribe said, U.S. buyers maintained a strong presence and were seen bidding and buying at every price point.

The highest price of the sale was the $25.5 million given for a 1902-06 watercolor by Paul Cézanne, Nature morte au melon vert (estimate: $14/18 million); it fell to an anonymous phone bidder after competitive bidding, including offers from dealer Larry Gagosian that ranged up to $22 million. The picture was offered from the private collection of prominent Asian art dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, who had purchased it for $4.3 million in 1989.

The buyer of the $25.5 million Cézanne also acquired Velocità d’automobile + luci, a 1913 oil on gold paper by Giacomo Balla that had been consigned by the Neumann Family Collection, assembled by Chicago businessman Morton G. Neumann. It sold for $3.96 million (estimate: $3.5/4.5 million). The same phone bidder also acquired Pablo Picasso’s 1965 oil-on-canvas Femme nue assise for $8.1 million (estimate: $8/10 million); and Paul Gauguin’s oil Cavalier devant la case, painted in the Marquesas Islands in 1902, for $4.85 million (estimate: $4/6 million). In all, the unknown buyer spent a total of $42.11 million.

Private dealer Daniella Luxembourg acquired other Cézanne watercolors from the Eskenazi collection, including: Rochers près des grottes au-dessus de château noir (Rochers à bibémus), 1895-1900, which fell for $2.28 million (estimate: $2/3 million); and the two-sided watercolor La montagne Sainte-Victoire (recto); Fruits et feuillage (verso), circa 1900-02 and circa 1885, respectively, for $1.27 million (estimate: $1.2/1.6 million).

A unique polychrome wood sculpture depicting a figure on a horse, by Marino Marini, L’idea del cavaliere, 1956, fell to New York dealer Larry Gagosian for a record $7 million (estimate: $6/8 million), more than doubling the artist’s previous record of just under $3 million. Another sculpture that fared well was a circa 1948-49 (cast 1950) painted bronze by Alberto Giacometti, Homme traversant une place par un matin de soleil (estimate: $4/6 million), which sold for $7.4 million.

A record was set for Lyonel Feininger when Jesuiten III (Jesuits III), a colorful 1915 Expressionist oil, took $23.28 million (estimate: $7/9 million) from a buyer Sotheby’s characterizes as “an international private collector.”

Among other top prices scored in the sale: A 1905 Picasso oil, Tête d’arlequin, fetched $15.2 million (estimate: $14/18 million) from a phone bidder, while his 1932 oil Les amants brought $14.6 million (estimate: $10/15 million).

There was heated competition for Fernand Léger’s oil Les usines, 1918, among bidders the likes of New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch, who offered up to $6/7 million. Ultimately the work went to a phone bidder for $14.3 million, more than double the high estimate of $7 million. And Joan Miró’s Peinture, 1927, was snapped up by a phone bidder for $8.4 million, in the middle of the $8/10 million estimate.

There was a noticeable shift from last fall’s auctions that saw heated demand for works by Amedeo Modigliani. At Sotheby’s in November, Le fils du concierge, 1918, a portrait of a seated boy, sparked a bidding war (ANL, 11/28/07) and eventually sold for $31.1 million, just shy of the record $31.4 million set in 2004.

This time around, Modigliani’s Portrait de Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918, elicited little response in the saleroom. The work was bought in after bidding rose no higher than $7.25 million (estimate: $8/10 million). Several lots later, a similar response met the artist’s Jeune fille assise, les cheveux dénoues (Jeune fille in bleu), 1919; it was passed over after a dearth of bids at the $9.25 million mark (estimate: $12/15 million).

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