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Private Collections Fuel Demand At Paris Contemporary Sales

Just a few months after Christie’s remarkable success with the collection of the late couturier Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé (ANL, 3/3/09), sales of Postwar and contemporary art at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s in Paris late last month met with robust demand, with a number of works selling for prices surpassing their high estimates.

PARIS—Just a few months after Christie’s remarkable success with the collection of the late couturier Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé (ANL, 3/3/09), sales of Postwar and contemporary art at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s in Paris late last month met with robust demand, with a number of works selling for prices surpassing their high estimates.

In Christie’s contemporary sale on May 27, 155 lots, or 76 percent of the 204 on offer, sold for a total of €8.2million ($11.4million). The top lot of the sale was Andy Warhol’s ­silk-screen-ink-and-polymer portrait Yves Saint Laurent, 1974, which sold for 745,000 ($1.04million), slightly over its estimate of €500,000/700,000.

Several outdoor sculptures also met with success. One of the biggest surprises in the auction was the sale of Niki de Saint Phalle’s Le banc, 1989, a sculpture of a man and dog on a park bench, for €553,000 ($772,818), more than nine times its estimate of €45,000/60,000.

A group of 50 works by the French artists ­François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne from a private European collection brought in a total of €3.4million ($4.75million). That success was one of a string of strong prices for works both by the artist couple and by François-Xavier, who passed away last year. La dame blanche, 2004–5, his nearly nine-foot-tall white marble sculpture of an owl, estimated at €180,000/250,000, sold well above its high estimate, bringing €409,000 ($571,578).

The couple’s Table singe aux nénuphars, 2008, a gilded bronze table in the form of a monkey holding a lily pad over its head, was estimated at €10,000/15,000 and soared to a price of €349,000 ($488,234). Another sculpture by François-Xavier Lalanne, Grand oiseau de Peter A., 2003, sold for €217,000 ($303,258), far above the estimate of €10,000/15,000. Another example from the same edition sold for €205,000 ($286,785) on an identical estimate.

Other lots that surpassed their high estimates include a work by French artist Jean-Pierre Raynaud (b. 1939), who is known for his enormous sculptures of flowerpots. A two-meter-high pot, estimated at €120,000/180,000, sold for €187,000 ($261,604). T1956–17, 1956, an oil painting by Hans Hartung, sold for €295,000 ($412,690) against a €180,000/250,000 estimate, and Jean Dubuffet’s painting Elément historié, 1974, estimated at €200,000/300,000, sold for €277,000 ($387,509).

Strong Showing for Sotheby’s Paris

At Sotheby’s, a two-day contemporary sale held May 27–28 also yielded very strong results, bringing in a total of €9million ($12.6million), well over the estimate of €5.6million/7.8million. Top prices were paid for several works from the Paul and Tomma Wember Collection. Paul Wember, a curator of the Haus Lange Museum, Dortmund, Germany, wrote a catalogue raisonné of Yves Klein’s work in 1969, and the offerings from the collection included five works by the artist.

Klein’s M 31–Cosmogonie, made with pure pigment and synthetic resin on paper laid down on canvas, was estimated at €60,000/80,000 and sold for €120,750 ($168,036). The Wember collection also included two 1961 sponge sculptures by Klein, one of which, SE 287, estimated at €20,000/30,000, sold for €63,150 ($87,880). Wrapped Hallway, 1971, a work on paper by Christo from the Wember collection, sold for €60,750 ($84,540) against an estimate of €25,000/35,000. Another Klein work, Ant Su 5, 1960, from his “Suaires Anthropométriques” series, which was created using paint-smeared female models as “live brushes” on canvas, was estimated at €350,000/450,000 and sold for €636,750 ($886,107).

As at Christie’s, works by François-Xavier Lalanne met with major success: Sauterelle, 1970, a monumental, grasshopper-shaped cocktail bar–sculpture, surpassed its €350,000 high estimate, selling for €540,750 ($752,513). Sauterelle was made in an edition of only two. The other example—a gift from President Georges Pompidou to Prince Philip during a state visit to France with Queen Elizabeth II—is now in Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish residence.

Other highlights of the sale included a 1954 painting of bottles by Nicolas de Staël, made shortly before his death, in 1955. The work sold for €1.3million ($1.8million), within its estimate of €1million/1.5million. Jean Fautrier’s painting La Dodue, 1955, from the personal collection of the artist’s friend Jean Paulhan, sold for €175,950 ($244,853) against an estimate of €70,000/90,000, and Barge Péniche, 1975, a major oil painting in blue by Joan Mitchell, sold for €900,750 ($1.25 million), above the €600,000/800,000 estimate. The session also featured ­more-contemporary works, including Grey Marilyn (Pictures of Diamond Dust), 2003, a portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Vik Muñiz, which sold for €45,150 ($57,821) against an estimate of €20,000/30,000.

The May 28 session, comprising the last 20 of the auction’s 200 lots, brought solid prices for works by such artists as French photographer Philippe Ramette—one of whose surrealistic self-portraits, Socle rationnel (Hommage à la Mafia), 2002, sold for €15,000 ($20,790), nearly double its €6,000/8,000 estimate—and Swiss photographer Balthasar Burkhard, whose diptych Montagnes, 1992–95, sold for €31,950 ($44,280) on an estimate of €15,000/20,000.

The sale also featured less expensive works from the Wember collection, including several 1968–69 “Campbell’s Soup” screenprints by Warhol, estimated at €4,000/5,000 each. Of these, Tomato, 1968, sold for €19,950 ($27,651), as did Onion made with beef stock and Golden Mushroom, among others. Chicken Dumpling did slightly better, selling for €21,150 ($29,314).

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