ARTnewsletter Archive

Paris Auctions Fly Past Expectations

In early June, two sales at Sotheby’s Paris, one of Impressionist and modern art and another of contemporary art, achieved a total of E31.3 million ($38.5 million), far surpassing the overall estimate of E14.9 million/21 million.

PARIS—In early June, two sales at Sotheby’s Paris, one of Impressionist and modern art and another of contemporary art, achieved a total of €31.3million ($38.5million), far surpassing the overall estimate of €14.9million/21million. The total represented a healthy 82 percent increase over the €17.2million ($24.3million) total of the same sales last year.

The Impressionist and modern sale on June 3 brought in €17.5million ($21.6million)—the highest total ever achieved for a sale in this category at Sotheby’s Paris—against an estimate of €7.6million/11 million. Of 111 lots offered, 91, or 82 percent, were sold. The auction was 97.2 percent sold by value. The offerings featured a group of works from the collection of André Level (1863–1946), a banker and collector who in 1904 founded La Peau de l’Ours, the first modern art investment fund. From 1906 on, La Peau de l’Ours concentrated exclusively on works by Pablo Picasso, and the auction presented several lots by the artist, including two important drawings from the early 1930s.

The works from the Level collection brought a total of €5.6million ($6.85million). The top lot was Picasso’s Le Repos du Sculpteur (Sculptor at Rest), 1933, which sold for €3.8 million ($4.6million), against a €400,000/600,000 estimate. Le joueur de clarinette, 1932, an ink and wash drawing of a clarinet player by Picasso, took €600,750 ($739,920) against a €300,000/400,000 estimate.

Le Canard Blanc, ca. 1925, a still life by Chaim Soutine, was the second-highest lot at the auction, fetching €1.97million ($2.4 million), double its €700,000/1million estimate.

Other works fetching top prices included four Cubist works by André Lhôte, Jean Metzinger, Louis Marcoussis and Georges Valmier. Lhôte’s still life Vases, oranges et citrons ou le moulinà café, 1917, sold for €144,750 ($178,280) on an estimate of €100,000/150,000. Marcoussis’s painting Toulon, 1926–8, sold for €180,750 ($222,620) on an estimate of €100,000/150,000 while his still life Bocal au poisson, livre, guitare devant le balcon, ca. 1925, set a new record, fetching €480,750 ($592,121) against a €180,000/250,000 estimate.

Valmier’s Le couple, 1928, more than doubled its high estimate of €70,000/100,000 to sell for €240,750. Metzinger’s oil portrait Femme à l’éventail dans un ovale, 1919, sold for €912,750 ($1.1 million), nearly doubling its €300,000/500,000 estimate; and Francis Picabia’s mixed-media painting Cou­ple amoureux, ca. 1924–27, sold for €696,750 ($858,159), at the top of its €500,000/700,000 estimate. Schluss (Conclusion), 1926, an oil painting on cardboard by Wassily Kandinsky estimated at €450,000/650,000, was sold for €660,750 ($813,819). Other top sellers included a 1934 abstract composition by Fernand Léger, Composition au fond jaune, which sold for €480,750 ($592,100) on a €400,000/600,000 estimate, and a 1940 oil portrait of Johann Wolfgang Goethe by André Masson, which took €624,750 ($769,480) on an estimate of €250,000/350,000.

A group of five works by Pavel Tchelitchew from the collection of Ruth Ford and Charles Henry Ford was 100 percent sold by lot, bringing a total of €1.3million ($1.6million). Tchelitchew’s oil painting Fata morgana, 1940, sold for €624,750 ($769,480) against an estimate of €50,000/70,000.

The contemporary sale, held in two sessions, brought in a total of €13.8million ($16.9million) and established new auction records for Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Jacques Villeglé and Marcoussis, as well as a new record for a work on paper for Zao Wou-Ki. The evening sale took in €9.5million ($11.7million) against an estimate of €5.1million/7million, with sell-through rates of 93 percent by lot and 99 percent by value. The day sale was 99.6 percent sold by value and 97.3 percent by lot, for a total of €4.3million ($5.3million).

Vieira da Silva’s monumental painting Hiver (Winter), 1960, sold for a record €1.1million ($1.3million) against a €600,000/800,000 estimate. The second record was for Villeglé, known for his works made of torn-up street posters. Boulevard St.-Martin, 1959, fetched €312,750 ($383,807), not only surpassing its estimate of €150,000/200,000, but also more than doubling the artist’s previous auction record. Zao’s 13 février 1992 tripled its estimate of €200,000/300,000, selling for €960,750 ($1.2 million). The auction record for a work on paper by the same artist was established during the sale as well, when Composition, 1964, sold for €360,750 ($442,712) against an estimate of €100,000/150,000.

Another top seller in the Postwar and contemporary auction was a colorful large-scale painting by the Finnish artist Erró (Gudmundur Gudmunds­son): Baby Rockefeller, 1962–63, which nearly doubled its €200,000/300,000 estimate to bring a price of €552,750 ($678,335). High prices were also achieved for Robert Indiana’s painted aluminum sculpture Love, Red (conceived in 1966, executed in 2000), and an untitled abstract painting, 1950, by Jean-Paul Riopelle sold for €516,750 ($636,460) on an estimate of €150,000/200,000. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting Joy, 1984, surpassed its €700,000/900,000 estimate to sell for €1.5million ($1.8million).