ARTnewsletter Archive

Sotheby’s Auction: ‘Depth of Bidding On All Levels’

Sotheby’s evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on Nov. 4 realized a total of $181.8 million, exceeding the overall estimate of $115.3 million/163 million and tripling the $61.4 million result of its spring sale. Obser­vers said the sale was packed with strong material, much of it fresh to the market.

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on Nov. 4 realized a total of $181.8million, exceeding the overall estimate of $115.3million/163million and tripling the $61.4million result of its spring sale. Obser­vers said the sale was packed with strong material, much of it fresh to the market.

The saleroom crackled with energy, and auctioneer Tobias Meyer had to contend with a flood of bids on several works. “I couldn’t keep up with all the people bidding,” he said immediately after the sale. “There was depth of bidding on all levels,” from $350,000 into the millions, Meyer added. “It was not just individuals making one or two bids.” He noted demand from Paris, New York, London and Switzerland in the sale. Indeed, at both houses the strength of demand from international clients bidding through European and Asian specialists on the telephones was clear, undoubtedly spurred by the weak U.S. dollar.

Sotheby’s top price was the $19.3million paid for a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, L’homme qui chavire, conceived in 1950 and cast in 1951. Estimated at $8million/12million, the work was consigned by publishing magnate S.I. Newhouse, who had reportedly paid about $20million for it. The sculpture had reportedly been offered privately for as much as $20 million.

Sotheby’s specialists were evidently successful in persuading Newhouse to lower his expectations for the work, which paid off in the end: After Meyer opened the bidding at around $5 million, the price shot up quickly. Between $9million and $12million, there were two phone bidders going head-to-head for the work. At $13million, a new phone bidder entered the competition, and ultimately the work sold for a hammer price of $17.2million.

The second-highest lot was André Derain’s bright Fauvist harbor scene Barques au port de Collioure, circa 1905. The painting was estimated at $6million/8million. Bidding opened at $5million and rose quickly as a bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s Swiss-art specialist Caroline Lang competed against Guy Bennett—a former head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s, now a private dealer—who was speaking with a client via cell phone. The painting eventually sold for $14million with premium.

Prestigious Names Draw Buyers

Provenance was a major factor in the strong demand: the auction offered works from the famed Durand-Ruel family of Paris dealers, as well as works from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. The sale was also bolstered by a group of 24 works from Dutch collector Louis Reijtenbagh, who earlier this year was sued by several banks to which he had pledged artworks as collateral, in some cases allegedly pledging the same works as collateral on multiple loans (ANL, 5/12/09). The Reij­tenbagh lots, which included paintings by Kees van Dongen and Derain, were some of the most hotly pursued at the sale.

Van Dongen’s Jeune Arabe, 1910, an oil depicting a shirtless youth with bright red-orange skin, was the catalogue cover lot. Estimated at $7million/10million, it sold for $13.8million, a new artist record. The previous record for a work by Van Dongen was $11.2million (£5.6million), set at Christie’s in London in February of last year by L’Ouled Naïl, a portrait of a veiled woman painted the same year. In all, the Reijtenbagh works realized $58.5million, exceeding their estimate of $35.2million/$50.4million.

Sotheby’s specialist Xing Li was bidding on behalf of a phone buyer (speaking Mandarin) throughout the evening. That buyer acquired four lots for a total of $10.8million: Pierre Auguste-Renoir’s Nature morte aux pommes et poires, 1890, for $962,500 (estimate: $350,000/450,000); Pablo Picasso’s Tête de femme de profil, 1923, for $842,500 (estimate: $800,000/1.2million), and Femme au chapeau vert, 1947, for $8.14million; and Claude Monet’s La chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Honfleur, 1864, for $842,500 (estimate: $400,000/600,000).

Competing against another client on the phone with Charlie Moffatt, Sotheby’s vice chairman, Impressionist, modern and contemporary art, for Picasso’s Femme au chapeau vert, Xing Li frequently jumped ahead of the bids that auctioneer Meyer was seeking, for example, bidding in $500,000 increments whereas $250,000 is standard.

Among the buyers in the room were dealer Alberto Mugrabi, who bought La Medi­tazione del Mattino, 1912, a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, for $2.3million (estimate: $1.5million/2million); dealer Lionel Pissarro, who acquired his great-grandfather Camille Pissarro’s painting Le pont Boieldieu et la gare d’Orléans, Rouen, Soleil, 1898, for $7million (estimate: $2million/3million); and dealer Richard Nagy, who bought Etude pour “Le Lever,” 1974, a pencil drawing on elephant-skin paper by Balthus, for $782,500 (estimate: $400,000/600,000).

Following the sale, Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s head of Impressionist and modern art in New York, said the results were “a testament to estimates. There is great appetite for great works.” He added that the market is “as vibrant as I’ve ever seen it.” In an e-mail after the Sotheby’s sale, dealer Paul Gray said, “I expected a stronger showing last night than the prior, but I did not anticipate such exuberance.” The impression of Christie’s auction, he said, “while coming out of a modest overall sale, must have been positive.”