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Christie’s Impressionist Auction: Nearly Half Unsold

Christie’s main evening sale of Impressionist and modern art was held on Nov. 6 in order to accommodate the presidential election on Nov. 4 and a separate evening sale of two private New York collections on Nov. 5 (See story, page 8).

NEW YORK—Christie’s main evening sale of Impressionist and modern art was held on Nov. 6 in order to accommodate the presidential election on Nov. 4 and a separate evening sale of two private New York collections on Nov. 5 (See story, page 8).

The house took $146.7 million for 82 lots offered, of which nearly half went unsold. The total was far below the low estimate of $240.7 million. Several high-estimated lots—by Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas and Pablo Picasso—found no takers, and many of the works that sold did so at prices well below expectations. Four lots, however, sold above $10 million each, and three of the top-selling works brought prices above $5 million each. The strength of U.S. buying—61 percent by lot—also came as a surprise to some observers.

Following the sale, Christie’s auctioneer and honorary chairman Christopher Burge remarked, “Obviously prices have changed somewhat,” adding that the world was “a different place” when estimates were set.

All six of the guaranteed lots found buyers, including the top lot, Juan Gris’s Cubist composition Livre, pipe et ­verres, 1915, which brought in $20.8 million (estimate: $12.5 million/18.5 million). Bidding opened at $8.5 million and moved slowly up to $12.5 million before taking on a more rapid pace, finally ending in a sale to private dealer Franck Giraud against two phone bidders.

Another guaranteed lot, Deux personages (Marie-Thérèse et sa soeur lissant), 1934, Picasso’s portrait of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter and her sister, sold for a hammer price of $16 million to a Christie’s client bidding through international co-head of contemporary art Brett Gorvy. With premium, the $18 million price just met the low estimate. The catalogue cover lot, Wassily Kandinsky’s Studie zu Improv­isation 3, 1909, took $16.9 million, also from a phone buyer (estimate: $15 million/20 million).

Bidding opened at $7 million for Alberto Giacometti’s Trois hommes qui marchent I, conceived in 1948 and cast in 1950. Montreal dealer Robert Landau acquired the work for a hammer price of $10.2 million, well short of the $14 million/18 million estimate. The work last sold at auction at Sotheby’s in New York in 1999, for $5.7 million on a $3 million/4 million estimate.

A late blue and black “musketeer” painting by Picasso, Mousquetaire et femme à la fleur, 1967, just cleared the low estimate, selling for $9 million to a phone bidder (estimate: $8 million/10 million).

Sculpture by Henry Moore also sold near the low end of expectations. The black marble sculpture Arch Form, 1970, brought $5 million (estimate: $5.5 million/7.5 million), and a 1981 bronze with brown patina, Reclining Woman: Elbow, sold for $3.9 million (estimate: $3.5 million/4.5 million). At a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 1994, Reclining Woman brought $992,500 against an estimate of $600,000/800,000.

Among the buyers in the room, New York dealer David Benrimon acquired Egon Schiele’s drawing Sitzende in Unterwäsche, Rückenansicht, 1917, for $1.6 million against competition from two phone buyers (estimate: $700,000/100,000). Benrimon also acquired Marc Chagall’s painting La ferme,1954–62, for $1.1 million (estimate: $1 million/1.5 million). La ferme was sold a decade ago at Christie’s in New York for $717,500, under the estimate of $800,000/1 million.

Swiss collector Georges Marci reportedly won Henri Laurens’s white marble sculpture La Lune, 1946, for a record $1.9 million. Landau told ARTnewsletter he was an underbidder on the work.

At the start of the auction, Burge announced that three works by Giacometti, Picasso and Henri Rousseau—which carried estimates in the range of $1.5 million/3.2 million—had been withdrawn from the sale because of concerns about their provenance and potential restitution issues.

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