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Mystery Collection of ‘Dr. B.’ Nets $5.1 Million at Auction

French auctioneer Osenat’s sale of contemporary art and 20th- and ­21st-century decorative arts, held on June 14 in the Paris suburb of Fontainbleau, featured a group of 23 artworks, including four works by Joan Mitchell, paintings and collages by Nicolas de Staël and canvases by Jean-Paul Riopelle.

PARIS—French auctioneer Osenat’s sale of contemporary art and 20th- and ­21st-century decorative arts, held on June 14 in the Paris suburb of Fontainbleau, featured a group of 23 artworks, including four works by Joan Mitchell, paintings and collages by Nicolas de Staël and canvases by Jean-Paul Riopelle. The works all came from one collection: the estate of a dentist referred to simply as “Dr. B.,” who had acquired all the paintings from the dealer Jacques Dubourg between 1950 and 1965. The paintings had been discovered by auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat last winter, after he was called in by a notary to help inventory an apartment in Paris’s 15th arrondissement. In the basement, he discovered a number of works by Postwar masters, neatly stacked in their original packages and concealed under piles of rags. In total, the collection of Dr. B. realized €3.7million ($5.1million).

Mitchell’s painting Le chemin des écoliers II, circa 1961, sold for €580,000 ($799,500), below its €600,000/900,000 estimate. An untitled abstract painting, circa 1956, sold for €295,000 ($406,600), within its €250,000/350,000 estimate. Another untitled work, circa 1957, sold for €265,000 ($365,276) on the same estimate, and the painting Buissonnière III, circa 1961, sold for €330,000 ($454,872) against a €200,000/300,000 estimate.

Another of the top lots in the sale was de Staël’s Nature morte au marteau, 1954, which sold for €500,000 ($689,200) against an estimate of €300,000/400,000. Abstractions by Riopelle also figured in the sale, including Sauzon, 1956, which sold for €160,000 ($220,544) on an estimate of €100,000/200,000, and his painting Sarsapilla, 1960, which surpassed its €100,000/130,000 estimate to sell for €170,000 ($234,330).

A painting by Maurice de Vlaminck—which hung on the wall, separate from the works discovered in the basement—titled Voiliers au pont de Chatou, 1908 (estimate: €150,000/200,000), sold for €157,000 ($216,350). Four works on paper by Sam Francis realized strong prices, in particular an untitled tempera painting on paper, 1958, which sold for €140,000 ($193,000) on an estimate of E40,000/50,000. The sale also included works by André Lanskoy and by Georges Mathieu, whose oil painting Apollodore s’oppose aux Gaulois, 1959, sold for €125,000 ($172,300) against an estimate of €70,000/90,000.

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