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$60M Malevich Painting Stars at Sotheby’s Imp/Mod Evening Sale

Sotheby’s opened the fall auction series on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, with a sale of Impressionist and modern art on Nov. 3.

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s opened the fall auction series on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, with a sale of Impressionist and modern art on Nov. 3. The evening sale’s total of $223.8 million fell far short of the $337.8 million low estimate, though this was true of all of this year’s major fall sales, and Sotheby’s cleared all of its top-estimated lots, selling three works, all of which were guaranteed, for more than $30 million each. Of 70 lots on offer, 45, or 64 percent, were sold. By value, the auction was 68 percent sold. Sotheby’s had guaranteed 11 of the 70 lots on offer; after the sale, just two guaranteed works had failed to find buyers.

David Norman, co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art, said the sale showed that “there is still a lot of wealth; a lot of people are liquid and in cash,” adding that there were often two to four bidders in the below-estimate price range in which bidding often took place. “People are willing to spend a great deal of money on a masterpiece. We had to readjust ourselves to encourage that,” Norman said of the lowered reserves.

Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition, 1916, which had been restituted to the heirs of the artist by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, earlier this year and given an unpublished estimate of about $60 million, brought a hammer price of $53.5 million from a phone buyer. The painting had received an irrevocable bid before the auction, according to Sotheby’s, ensuring its sell.

Edvard Munch’s painting Vampire, 1894, was another highlight of the sale, bringing a record $38.2 million against an unpublished estimate in excess of $30 million. The work sold to a Sotheby’s client on the phone with specialist August Uribe, bidding against dealer Larry Gagosian in the room. Vampire, Munch’s most famous image after The Scream, had been on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, since 1996.

Edgar Degas’s pastel and gouache Danseuse au repos, circa 1879, consigned by financier Henry Kravis, had been given an unpublished estimate in excess of $40 million, but brought slightly less, earning $37 million with premium. Never­theless, the price represented a tidy profit for Kravis, who acquired the work almost a decade ago at Sotheby’s in London for £17.6 million ($28 million) on an estimate of £5 million/7 million. According to Sotheby’s, the price was a record for any work on paper at auction.

Juan Gris’s Guitare, 1913, just cleared the low estimate of $6 million, selling for $6.6 million with premium. The painting had last been offered at auction in 1997, at Christie’s in New York, where it sold for $3.5 million against an estimate of $2.5 million/3.5 million.

Just a week before the auction, Sotheby’s announced that one of its top lots, Pablo Picasso’s Arlequin (Buste), 1909, which carried an unpublished estimate of $30 million, had been withdrawn from the sale by the heirs of collector Enrico Donati for “personal reasons.” By that time, the work had already been catalogued and was featured on the inside cover and in a six-page spread inside the catalogue.

For the first time, Sotheby’s introduced pre-modernist Russian paintings into its evening Impressionist sale, and many of these lots drew healthy demand and prices. These included three works by Boris Grigoriev (1886–1939) that were offered for sale from the collection of the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Mass., where they had been since 1948. The painting Shepherd of the Hills, 1920, sold for $3.7 million, a new record for the artist (estimate: $2.5 million/3.5 million); Binious (Pipe Players), 1924, sold for $3.2 million, below its $4 million/6 million estimate; and Man with Pipe, 1922, brought $1.1 million (estimate: $600,000/800,000).

Other top lots in the sale included Picasso’s Neoclassical Femme au chapeau bleu garni d’une guirlande, 1923–24, which sold for $4.9 million, below its estimate of $6 million/8 million.

Among the buyers in the room, Swiss dealer Doris Ammann bought Camille Pissarro’s La Seine à Bougival, 1871, one of the guaranteed lots, for $1.9 million (estimate: $2 million/3 million).

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