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Uptick in Print Sales Reflects Renewed Art-Market Confidence

The recent spring series of auctions of Old Master, modern and contemporary prints drew strong demand across the board, and some experts said that the robust sales of multiples are a sign of renewed strength in the broader art market.

NEW YORK—The recent spring series of auctions of Old Master, modern and contemporary prints drew strong demand across the board, and some experts said that the robust sales of multiples are a sign of renewed strength in the broader art market.

Christie’s sale on April 26–27 offered 480 lots, of which 418, or 87 percent, found buyers, earning a total of $8.1million, within the estimate of $6.2million/9million. This year’s result was well above last spring’s $2.9million for 228 lots offered, even on the basis of average price per lot.

Prices for Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso were strong at Sotheby’s sale, which took in $7.8million, within the $7million/9.9million estimate. Of the 373 lots, 285, or 78 percent, found buyers. Last April, Sotheby’s took in $4.6million, selling 222, or 64 percent, of 246 lots offered.

Warhol’s Mao, 1972, a portfolio of 10 screenprints, brought the sale’s top price of $470,500 (estimate: $300,000/400,000). Other works by Warhol included Rebel without a Cause, 1985, which sold for $86,500 on an estimate of $60,000/80,000; Alexander the Great, 1982, which fetched $74,500 against a $20,000/30,000 estimate; and Shoes, 1980, which sold for $68,500 on an estimate of $50,000/70,000. Picasso’s linocut Bust of a Woman (After Cranach the Younger), 1958, brought the sale’s second-highest price of $434,500, within the $350,000/500,000 estimate, but other works by the artist also did well, including the etching The Frugal Repast, 1904, which sold for $116,500 on an estimate of $80,000/120,000.

Tudor Davies, head of Christie’s prints department, noted that the sale “ended with our highest sold total since April 2008.” The top sellers were Edvard Munch’s lithograph and woodcut Madonna, 1895–1902, which brought $494,500 against an estimate of $350,000/500,000; Marc Chagall’s Four Tales from Arabian Nights, 1948, a set of 12 color lithographs, which sold for $314,500 on an estimate of $300,000/400,000; and two lots by Jean-Michel Basquiat—Anatomy, 1982, a set of 18 screenprints, which sold for $242,500 against an estimate of $70,000/90,000, and Back of the Neck, 1983, a color screenprint with hand coloring, which sold for $242,500 against an estimate of $150,000/200,000.

Color linocut prints by Picasso included another Bust of a Woman (After Cranach the Younger), 1958, which sold for $218,500 on an estimate of $180,000/220,000, and Grande tête de femme au chapeau orné, 1962, which sold for $218,500 against an estimate of $100,000/150,000. Other lots that fetched strong prices were Munch’s etching The Kiss, 1895, which sold for $182,500 on an estimate of $150,000/250,000; The Seasons, 1987, a set of four color etchings by Jasper Johns, which took $146,500 on an $80,000/120,000 estimate; Roy Lichtenstein’s relief print Nude with Yellow Pillow, 1994, which took $116,500 on a $100,000/150,000 estimate, and Warhol’s screenprint Mickey Mouse, 1981, which sold for $110,500 on an estimate of $70,000/100,000. A number of lots exceeded estimates by large margins, including a set of four untitled 1986 color lithographs by Willem de Kooning, which brought $104,500 on a $60,000/80,000 estimate; Boîte en Valise, 1967–71, a “portable museum” by Marcel Duchamp, which took $92,500 (estimate: $50,000/70,000); Red Celia, 1985, a color lithograph by David Hockney, which sold for $40,000 (estimate: $20,000/30,000); and Circus Night, 1933, a drypoint by Martin Lewis, which sold for $18,750 on a $10,000/15,000 estimate.

At Swann Galleries’ prints sale on April 27, The Flight into Egypt, 1653, an etching by Rem­brandt, was the top lot, selling for $72,000 on a $40,000/60,000 estimate. This was “the highest grossing sale at Swann’s overall in two years,” said Todd Weyman, Swann’s director of prints. The auction generated a total of $1.8million, just below the estimate of $1.9million/2.9million, and 333, or 76 percent, of the 438 lots sold. Last year’s sale took $1.5million for 496 lots. “It’s a promising sign for the economy,” Weyman said.

Rembrandt Works Fuel Swann Sale

No artist was better represented in the sale than Rembrandt; there were 63 works by the artist, and all but five found buyers. Among these was the etching Self Portrait with Curly Hair and White Collar, ca. 1630, which brought $36,000 on an estimate of $30,000/50,000; the etching Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, 1635, which sold for $26,400 on an estimate of $30,000/50,000, and the etching Self Portrait with Saskia, 1636, which sold for $22,800 on an estimate of $15,000/20,000.

Other top performers include Chagall’s color lithograph Le Cirque, 1967, which sold for $48,000 (estimate: $30,000/50,000); Picasso’s color linocut Spanish Woman, 1962, which brought $43,200 on an estimate of $40,0000/60,000; Sadness, 1922–27, a portfolio of 56 aquatints by Georges Rouault, which brought $38,400 (estimate: $35,000/50,000), and L’Enfant à la lampe, ca. 1897, a color lithograph by Pierre Bonnard, which fetched $21,600 on a $12,000/18,000 estimate. And Käthe Kollwitz’s lithograph Head of a Laborer’s Wife, 1902–3, sold for $19,200, well above the estimate of $8,000/12,000.

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