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Robust Bidding for Blue-Chip Works at Sotheby’s Imp/Mod Sale

Heading into the spring Impres­sionist and modern auction series, it was no secret that Christie’s had scored the lion’s share of the marquee artworks on offer this season, first with the consignment of the Brody Collection, and, in the week that followed, with the auction of 31 works of Postwar and contemporary art from the

NEW YORK—Heading into the spring Impres­sionist and modern auction series, it was no secret that Christie’s had scored the lion’s share of the marquee artworks on offer this season, first with the consignment of the Brody Collection, and, in the week that followed, with the auction of 31 works of Postwar and contemporary art from the estate of author Michael Crichton. The Crichton collection fetched a total of $93.3million at Christie’s on May 11, led by Jasper Johns’s Flag, 1960–66, which sold for a record $28.6million against an estimate of $10million/15million. (A complete report on the contemporary-art auctions will be published in the next issue of ARTnewsletter.)

In any event, Sotheby’s presented a solid sale of Impressionist and modern art on May 5, which was led by seven- and eight-figure sales of paintings and sculpture by Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and Auguste Rodin. The house took in a total of $195.7million for 57 lots offered, of which 50, or 88 percent, found buyers. Forty-three works sold for prices over $1million. By value, the auction was 92 percent sold. Following the sale, auctioneer Tobias Meyer said the bidding was marked by “participation from every corner of the globe.”

The total was an improvement over the $181.7million sale of last fall and more than three times the $61.4million total of last spring’s evening sale (ANL, 5/26/09). Pointing out the strength of the sale’s $195.7million result against the $204million high estimate, Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s head of Impressionist and modern art, said “it was wonderful to see things moving in the right direction. We saw very vigorous and spirited bidding.” Emmanuel Di Donna, Sotheby’s vice chairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide, said the buying indicated a “quest for quality” in the market.

The top lot was Bouquet de fleurs pour le quatorze juillet, 1919, a painting by Matisse with an $18million/25million estimate and an irrevocable bid, which sold to a telephone buyer for $28.6million. It had been acquired by the seller at a Drouot auction in Paris in 1982. That was followed by Effet de printemps à Giverny, 1890, a landscape by Monet, for which bidding opened at $8million. The work sold to a private Asian buyer for a hammer price of $13.5million, within its estimate of $10million/15million. With premium the final price was $15.2million.

A Japanese collector was listed as the buyer of the third-highest lot, Modigliani’s Jeanne Hébuterne au Collier, ca. 1916–17, a thickly painted portrait of the artist’s lover, who committed suicide the day after Modigliani’s death in 1920. Estimated at $8million/12million, the portrait sold for $13.8million. A 281⁄2-inch-high bronze cast of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker (Le Penseur), conceived in 1880–81 and cast between November 1916 and May 1917, nearly doubled the $6million high estimate to sell for $11.8million. According to auction house officials, of the top ten lots, three were acquired by “Asian private” buyers, one of them a Japanese collector. And a European collector bought Egon Schiele’s painting Weiblichert Rückenakt (Fragment), 1913, for $5.1million, within the estimate of $4million/6million. Femme au grand chapeau. Buste, 1965, a painting by Picasso that was consigned to the sale from the estate of Patricia Kennedy Lawford, sister of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy, sold within the $8million/12million estimate for $9.3million.

The auction set a new record for a work by Salvador Dalí, when Spectre du soir sur la plage, 1935, a Surrealist yellow landscape, sold for $5.7million, within the $4million/6million estimate. The previous record was $4.1million.

Sotheby’s took in an additional $37.6million in a sale of lower-value Impressionist and modern art on the following day, selling 188, or 76 percent, of the 247 lots on offer. By value the day auction was 81.5 percent sold.

The top lot was Le pavillon bleu à Saint-Cloud, 1905, an oil on canvas by Albert Marquet (1875–1947), which sold for $1.6million, well above the $600,000/900,000 estimate. The same work had last appeared at auction at Sotheby’s London in June 1988, when it sold for £231,000 ($410,600) on an estimate of £120,000/150,000.

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