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High Prices, Sold-by-Lot Rates At Christie’s Imp/Mod Sale

Christie’s had more high-valued lots than Sotheby’s, and sold more of them, in its larger sale of Impressionist and modern art on Feb. 4.

LONDON—Christie’s had more high-valued lots than Sotheby’s, and sold more of them, in its larger sale of Impressionist and modern art on Feb. 4. Thirty-nine, or 83 percent, of the 47 lots were sold, for a total of £63.4 million ($91.2 million); with premium, the sale just cleared the low estimate of £58 million. As at Sotheby’s, this was a considerable drop from last year’s total of £105.4 million ($207.4 million). Not only was the sold-by-lot rate better at Christie’s (83 percent, versus Sotheby’s 76 percent), but the average price per lot sold was also higher (£1.63 million versus £1.05 million).

This may not have brought a great deal of comfort to the European private collector who had ­consigned six works to the sale at the end of last summer with a combined estimate of £27 million/33 million. Only three of the six lots sold, fetching £19.4 million ($27.7 million). All three had been bought in the late 1990s, and yielded little or no return. Claude Monet’s Dans la prairie, 1876, which had been bought in 1999 for $15.4 million, sold for £11.2 million ($16.2 million) against an unpublished estimate of £15 million. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s L’abandon (Les deux amies), 1895, which had been bought in 2000 for $9.35 million, sold for £6.2 million ($8.9 million) on an estimate of £5 mil­lion/7 million. Paul Gauguin’s Les dindons, Pont-Aven, 1888, which had been bought in 1998 for $2.9 million, sold for £2.1 million ($2.95 million) on an estimate of £2 million/3 million. Of the lots that failed, Monet’s canvas, La Promenade d’Argenteuil, 1872, was the most conspicuous. Having sold for £3 million in 1998, and estimated at £3.5 million/5 million, it attracted no bids at £2.8 million, leading to renewed observations that the market for early Impressionist painting was in retreat.

Post-Impressionism did not seem to be faring any better: Edouard Vuillard’s Nabi-period painting Les couturières, 1890, had originally been consigned from the collection of publisher Paul Josefowitz with a potentially record-breaking estimate of £5.5 million/7.5 million and a guarantee. On the eve of the auction, the estimate was reduced by £1 million, and on the day of the sale there was only one bid, from Asia, which allowed the work to sell for £5 million ($7.3 million).

More sought-after was a never-before-auctioned painting by Amedeo Modigliani, Les deux filles, 1918, which brought in £6.5 million ($9.4 million) against an estimate of £3.5 million/5.5 million, and the demimonde paintings of Kees van Dongen, for whom an artist record of £5.6 million ($11.1 million) was set at Christie’s last year (ANL, 2/19/08). A collection of four van Dongens were given tempting estimates and placed in the early section of the sale, and they sold easily. One, Femme aux deux colliers, circa 1910, sold for £1.3 million ($1.9 million)—double the £300,000/600,000 estimate—to a Paris representative of Christie’s with underbidding from the Nahmad family and collector Laurence Graff. Another, La cuirasse d’or, circa 1907, sold to a Russian-speaking bidder in the room for £2.9 million ($4.1 million) on an estimate of £1.5 million/2.5 million.

Work by Joan Miró was again in demand with the oil Femme entendant chanter le coq aux éclats violets, 1972, taking £892,450 ($1.3 million), against an estimate of £500,000/700,000. Late works by Pablo Picasso also sold well, with Stefan Ratibor of the Gagosian Gallery snagging Buste d’homme, 1971, for £1.5 million ($2.2 million) on an estimate of £1.2 million/1.8 million.

Demand for sculpture continued to appear solid. A large Henry Moore bronze, Reclining Mother and Child, 1960 (cast in 1961), which last sold in 2002 for $1.4 million, sold to a U.S. collector for £2.6 million ($3.8 million) against an estimate of £1.5 million/2 million, and Torse de femme, circa 1925, by Ossip Zadkine sold for a record £421,250 ($605,760) on an estimate of £300,000/500,000.

Sculpture buyers in the room included Graff, who picked up Moore’s small Family Group, conceived in 1945 and cast in the artist’s lifetime, for £481,250 ($692,037) on a £400,000/600,000 estimate and a small Alberto Giacometti sculpture, Annette d’après nature (conceived in 1954 and cast at a later date), for £937,250 ($1.3 million) on an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million. Pyms Gallery, London, won Marino Marini’s Gentiluomo a cavallo, conceived in 1937, for £769,250 ($1.1 million) on a £700,000/1 million estimate.

Back on the Auction Block

Several works that had been bought last year returned to the saleroom because the buyer had difficulty in paying, according to Thomas Seydoux, Christie’s head of the Impressionist and modern art department in Paris. Inevitably, these works registered as losses, but their results also provide insight into the extent of the downturn in some areas.

Alexej von Jawlensky’s Expressionist oil Mäd­chen mit roter Schleife, 1911, for example, was bought last year for £2.9 million ($5.8 million), and sold for £1.9 million ($2.8 million). Vasily Kan­dinsky’s small Watercolor for Poul Bjerre, 1916, bought last year for £670,100, sold for £433,250 ($623,013) on a £300,000/500,000 estimate.

As at Sotheby’s, U.S. buying was up from the year before to 26 percent, and prices for most of the works sold—28 out of 39 lots—fell within or above estimate. After the sale, CEO Edward Dolman said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the outcome. The lower estimates had resulted in “more competitive bidding than before,” he said.

Christie’s day sales took in an additional £19 million ($27.4 million), with 215, or 77 percent of the 281 lots finding buyers, most also at prices within or above estimate. Works by Miró, Emil Nolde, Paul Signac and Picasso all did well. Some of the works bought last year even sold for more this time: Camille Pissarro’s Sous-bois à Moret, 1902, for example, made £264,500 last February and sold now for £361,250 ($519,116) on an estimate of £150,000/250,000.

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