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Christie’s Hits Its Mark With $100M Imp/Mod Evening Sale

In its evening sale of Impression­ist and modern art on May 6, Christie’s fared better than Sotheby’s, taking in $102.8 million, which fell in the middle of the overall estimate of $87.6 million/125.2 million.

NEW YORK—In its evening sale of Impression­ist and modern art on May 6, Christie’s fared better than Sotheby’s, taking in $102.8 million, which fell in the middle of the overall estimate of $87.6 million/125.2 million. Of the 48 lots offered, 38, or 79 percent, were sold, and the house posted a sold-by-value rate of 94 percent.

Having gotten a read on the market at Sotheby’s on the previous evening, bidders seemed more relaxed and willing to spend money for top-quality works. Two works by Pablo Picasso topped the sale. The first, Mousquetaire à la pipe, 1968, from the collection of Jerome Fisher, brought $14.6 million, in the middle of the estimate of $12 million/18 million.

Fisher, a co-founder of footwear company Nine West, was a victim of Bernard Madoff’s fraudulent investment scheme, who reportedly lost $150 million. In the sale catalogue, the Picasso was marked as having a third-party guarantee, an arrangement in which the house arranges to have an outside party to assume the risk. The sale of the painting generated a considerable profit for Fisher, since he acquired it at auction in November 2004 for $7.2 million.

The second-highest-selling lot was Picasso’s Femme au chapeau, 1971, a green-hued painting depicting a bearded woman, which had been consigned from the collection of artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. The work sold to a dealer for $7.7 million. Several experts expressed surprise at what they viewed as a strong price—albeit short of the $8 million/12 million estimate—citing the rough painting style and nearly unfinished look of the painting. Schnabel had owned the work for twenty years.

On the basis of the hammer price, Alberto Giacometti’s Buste de Diego (Stele III), conceived in 1957–58 and cast in 1958, slightly exceeded its estimate, realizing $6.8 million ($7.7 million with premium) from a phone bidder against a $4.5 million/6.5 million estimate.

The auction also shattered the $4.9 million artist record for Tamara de Lempicka, set at Sotheby’s only the evening before by Portrait de Marjorie Ferry, 1932. At Christie’s, Portrait de Madame M., 1925, brought $6.1 million against an estimate of $6 million/8 million.

A Winning Combination

“What an exhilarating night,” declared Chris­topher Burge, Christie’s auctioneer and honorary chairman, after the sale. Guy Bennett, Christie’s international co-head of the department, said the house had struck the “right combination of great works with attractive estimates” in its offering.

An Edgar Degas pastel on paper laid down on board, Apres le bain, femme s’essuyant, circa 1890–95, sold to a phone bidder for $5.9 million, near the top end of the $4 million/6 million estimate. A 1934 Picasso still life took $5.5 million, just within the estimate of $5 million/7 million.

Most of the top works sold for prices in the middle of the estimates, including Alexej von Jawlensky’s oil on board Odalyske, 1910, which realized $5.1 million against a $4 million/6.5 million estimate, and Marc Chagall’s L’événement, 1978, which fetched $3.7 million on an estimate of $3 million/4 million.

Most of the unsold lots were lower-estimated works, such as Picasso’s gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper Arlequin, circa 1915, which was bought in at around $420,000 after it failed to reach the estimate of $600,000/800,000. Also unsold was Egon Schiele’s Seher, 1913, a gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper estimated at $800,000/1.2 million, which was pulled when bidding failed to exceed $650,000.

Specialists at both houses emphasized the importance of freshness to the market in an environment of selectivity and caution. Results were mixed for works that had been bought in recent years and were returning to the auction block.

Jacques Lipchitz’s Arlequin à l’accordéon, 1919, a bronze with brown and green patina that was cast in the artist’s lifetime, was estimated at $700,000/900,000, but the hammer price of $500,000 fell well short of that. With premium, the 255⁄8-inch-high sculpture fetched $602,500 from a phone bidder. The consignor had acquired the work at a Sotheby’s auction in November 2002 for $504,500 against a $400,000/600,000 estimate.

Maurice de Vlaminck’s Le Havre, les bassins, 1907, a Fauvist oil painting of boats, sold for $3.8 million, also below its estimate of $4.5 million/6.5 million. In November 1997, at a Sotheby’s sale in New York, the painting had sold for a ­within-estimate $1.2 million. In June 1989, during the art market’s previous peak, the same painting had sold for £1.3 million ($2.05 million) at Sotheby’s in London.

Pierre Bonnard’s painting Nu Devant la glace ou Baigneuse, 1915, sold for $902,500 with premium, landing within the $800,000/1.2 million estimate. Offered for sale 12 years ago at Sotheby’s in London, the oil brought £243,500 ($406,000) against an estimate of £250,000/350,000.

Henri Edmond Cross’s oil Rio San Trovaso, Venise, 1903–4, had also been on the auction block a handful of times in the past two decades. Estimated at $1.2 million/1.6 million in this sale, it brought $1.3 million. Five years ago, at Sotheby’s in London, it brought £453,600 ($829,250) on an estimate of £400,000/600,000.

At a sale at Christie’s in London in December 1990—again, near the market’s previous peak—the painting sold for £275,000 ($544,015) against an estimate of £300,000/400,000.

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