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Millet Leads at Christie’s 19th-Century European Art Sale

Christie’s sale of 19th-century European art in London on Jan. 23 realized £3.6 million ($5.3 million).

NEW YORK—Christie’s sale of 19th-century European art in London on Jan. 23 realized £3.6 million ($5.3 million). Of the 104 lots on offer, 68, or 65 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 82 percent sold.

An Asian dealer gave the top price of £334,100 ($654,168) for The Sleeping Seamstress (estimate: £300,000/500,000), by Jean–François Millet (1814-1875). The work has appeared at auction several times since it was painted circa 1844-45—at Hotel Drouot, Paris, in 1884, and at Christie’s London in 1948, where it achieved a price of “9 pounds, 9 shillings,” according to Christie’s. More recently it was sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 1990.

The next-highest price was £311,700 ($610,309), paid for Eugène Delacroix’s circa 1856 watercolor of a lion battling a tiger, Combat d’un lion et d’un tigre—a figure slightly higher than the estimated £200,000/300,000. The work, which had been exhibited at the Louvre, Paris, in 1930, was acquired by a European collector.

Young Orpheus, an oil by Polish artist Hendrik Siemiradzki (1843-1902), took £210,500 ($412,159), more than triple the £60,000 high estimate.

Christie’s specialist Alexandra McMorrow noted that at least 35 bidders registered via the Internet—one of them the direct underbidder on the Siemiradzki painting. “Strong bidding was seen throughout, and we welcomed a significant number of new international clients,” she said. McMorrow further noted that the “successful results” affirmed Christie’s recent decision to move the sale to January, following a calendar restructuring.

Paris’ Musée d’Orsay was among the buyers at the sale, acquiring Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ La Liseuse, ca. 1885-87, for £48,500 ($94,963), four times the £12,000 high estimate.

Among other top lots, Scène de bistro, by Jean Béraud (1849-1936), fetched £84,500, or $165,451 (estimate: £70,000/100,000). Another Béraud picture, Le Boulevard Saint Denis à Paris, fell for £96,500 ($188,947), albeit missing the low estimate of £100,000. Among artworks that exceeded expectations, Nightfall in Spain, by Joaquín Mir I Trinxet (1873-1940), sold for £78,500, or $153,703 (estimate: £40,000/60,000); and Choosing the Rose, by Jean François Portaels (1818-1895), carrying the same estimate, took £72,500 ($141,955).

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