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Low Estimates Lure Buyers to Lehman Brothers Art Sale

Just over a year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, part of the investment firm’s art collection was included in a sale of modern and contemporary art at Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

NEW YORK—Just over a year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, part of the investment firm’s art collection was included in a sale of modern and contemporary art at Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia on Nov. 1. All 283 lots of paintings, prints and sculpture from the Lehman collection found buyers, many of them selling for well above the quite conservative estimates. In all, the artworks in the Lehman section of the sale earned $1.35million, well above the estimate of $500,000/750,000. The top Lehman lots were led by Roy Lichtenstein’s color screenprint I Love Liberty, 1982, which sold for $49,000, nearly ­double its $15,000/25,000 estimate.

Last December, the bankruptcy court granted the firm permission to auction $8million worth of art that once decorated its office walls, with the proceeds to go to Lehman’s creditors. This sale was the first of three; Freeman’s will auction off more of the Lehman collection in its Dec. 6 sale of American and European paintings and sculpture. The remaining items in the collection will be sold Feb. 12, 2010, at a no-reserve sale.

Friedel Dzubas’s oil Tundra II, 1962, sold for $28,600 (estimate: $10,000/15,000), and Robert Indiana’s Polygons, 1975, a suite of seven screenprints, brought $23,750 (estimate: $6,000/8,000). Bernar Venet’s steel sculpture 97.5° Arc x 14, 2003, sold for $22,500 (estimate: $20,000/30,000); Byron Browne’s oil Image in Black, 1948, fetched $25,000 (estimate: $4,000/6,000); Georges Schreiber’s oil Brooklyn Bridge, 1945, brought $20,000 (estimate: $4,000/6,000); and David Hockney’s color etching Godetia, 1973, was sold for $16,250 (estimate: $7,000/10,000).

Two lithographs of Manhattan skylines by Louis Lozowick—Mural Study: Lower Manhat­tan, 1934, and Above the City, 1932—both went for prices far above expectations, selling for $15,000 (estimate: $3,000/5,000) and $10,625 (estimate: $600/1,000), respectively.

Anne Henry, vice president of modern and contemporary works of art at Freeman’s, said the auctioneer “priced lots low, at an attractive level” to encourage bidding, but buyers needed little encouragement in this sale. “Prices were indicative of the excitement over the provenance,” Henry said. A sizeable percentage of the bidders and buyers were former Lehman employees, she noted, who may have wanted an artifact from their days working for the company or to own the artwork that had decorated their offices. She added that another large percentage were first-time bidders, “not necessarily art collectors.”

Over all, Freeman’s sale brought in $2.6million for 401 lots offered, also ahead of the $1.2 million/1.8 million estimate. Whatever worked for the Lehman portion of the sale also held true for the remainder, as all but four lots found buyers.

Some of the non-Lehman lots also did well, including an Andy Warhol 1984 portrait of Grace Kelly, which sold for $73,000 on an estimate of $40,000/60,000, and an untitled 1956 oil by French artist Olivier Debre, which sold for $67,000 on an estimate of $15,000/25,000.

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