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Christie’s Imp/Mod Sale Roars Past the $240 Million Mark

Christie’s Impressionist and modern art sale on June 18 created the highest total ever for a European sale in this category, realizing £121.1 million ($240 million) for 63, or 88 percent, of 72 lots.

LONDON—Christie’s Impressionist and modern art sale on June 18 created the highest total ever for a European sale in this category, realizing £121.1 million ($240 million) for 63, or 88 percent, of 72 lots.

The top price was £17.9 million ($35.5 million) given for Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, temps couvert, 1904, which had been estimated at £6/8 million. The painting fell to an anonymous U.S. collector against Russian and Asian phone bids. Although just tipping the 1998 record of $33 million (£19.8 million) in dollar terms, the figure was claimed as the second-highest for a Monet in pounds sterling.

A less-atmospheric Monet, estimated higher at £9/12 million—Les arceaux de roses, Giverny (Les arceaux fleuris), 1913—fetched £8.9 million on a single bid from Thomas Seydoux, head of Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department in France.

Wielding paddle No. 852, Seydoux, who was thought to be bidding for a Russian collector in Switzerland, acquired ten works in all, for a total of £23.4 million ($46.3 million). These included highly colored Fauve paintings by André Derain (Bateaux à Collioure, circa 1905; £2.03 million, or $4 million, against an estimated £800,000/1.2 million); Emile Othon Friesz (a record £1.3 million, or $2.6 million, for Le port d’Anvers, 1906); and works by Russian-born artists Marc Chagall (L’hiver, ca. 1966; £3.49 million, or $6.9 million); Chaïm Soutine (£3.9 million, or $7.8 million, for the landscape L’escalier rouge à Cagnes, ca. 1923-24); and the lesser-known Lasar Segall (a record £412,000, or $816,172, for Zwei Köpfe, 1919).

Seydoux later switched to paddle No. 851 to gain three more works for a total of £13.8 million ($27.3 million), among them Joan Miró’s late paining Le coq, 1940, for which he paid a record £6.6 million, or $13.1 million (estimate: £3.5/4.5 million).

Another Russian buyer paid a record £4.9 million ($9.8 million) for Natalia Goncharova’s Picking Apples, ca. 1909, more than triple the £1.5 million high estimate. The painting also set a record for any woman artist at auction, surpassing works by Mexico’s cult figure Frida Kahlo (1907-54).

This price was a coup for the Christie’s Impressionist department because Goncharova’s rare easel paintings increasingly are being sold in Russian art sales.

Although her subject matter is often Russian peasantry, her place in art history is securely within the European modernist tradition.

Yet another Russian buyer—identified as Ghar Ivanishvili—bought works by Maurice de Vlaminck (£2.7 million or $5.3 million, for Maison au bord de la Seine à Chatou, ca. 1906-07); and Alexej von Jawlensky (right on the low-estimate £2 million, or $3.96 million, for Infantin [Spanierin], 1912-13). Ivanishvili made a big impact at the London sales in February when he bought Peter Doig’s White Canoe, 1990-91, for £5.7 million, or $11.3 million (ANL, 2/20/07).

Russian Presence ‘Significant’

Christie’s did not disclose the precise percentage of Russian buying, which was clearly significant. It was included in the general figure of 78 percent of European buying by lot, which included 22% of U.K. buying. U.S. buying by lot totaled a relatively low 21%, with Asia at just 1%.

Western trade buying was minimal. New York gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash won a posthumous cast of Auguste Rodin’s small bronze Femme accroupie, conceived in 1882 and cast ca. 1930, for £192,000, or $380,352 (estimate: £150,000/180,000); and Acquavella Galleries took a Miró watercolor collage, Le vent, 1924, for £333,600, or $660,860 (estimate: £250,000/350,000).

After the sale, Christie’s New York department head Guy Bennett noted that 30 percent of the buyers had entered the market only in the past two years. Head of sale Olivier Camu called the breaking of the £100 million mark ($198 million) “a landmark event in the history of the art market,” and auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen confirmed that the number of American consignments to London sales was on the rise.

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