ARTnewsletter Archive

Highs and Lows at London Imp/Mod Sales

While some observers grumbled that lofty estimates led to less-than-stellar results at the opening sessions of the major summer auctions of Impressionist and modern art in London, dozens of seven- and eight-figure prices for blue-chip masterpieces nonetheless underscore the art market’s continuing rebound and strength in recent months.

NEW YORK—While some observers grumbled that lofty estimates led to less-than-stellar results at the opening sessions of the major summer auctions of Impressionist and modern art in London, dozens of seven- and eight-figure prices for blue-chip masterpieces nonetheless underscore the art market’s continuing rebound and strength in recent months. Sale volume and the number of lots on offer were both up sharply. The top three lots in each of Sotheby’s and Christie’s evening sales all sold for prices over $10million. Buy-in rates were slightly higher than normal, however, a sign that demand remains selective.

In all, Sotheby’s sale on June 22 realized £112.1million ($165.3million) for 51 lots offered, more than triple the £33.5million ($55.3million) achieved at its evening sale last June, in which 27 lots were offered. The total was within Sotheby’s overall estimate of £101million/148million. Christie’s sale on June 23 realized £152.6million ($226.5million) for 62 lots offered, more than quadrupling the £37.1million ($60.4million) total achieved last year, when 44 lots were offered (ANL, 7/6/09). Christie’s total fell short of the estimate of £163.6 million/231.2 million.

The top lot at Sotheby’s was an Edouard Manet self-portrait, Portrait de Manet par lui-même en buste (Manet à la palette), ca. 1878, which was consigned by hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen, who appears among the top ten on the ARTnews 200 list of the top collectors in the world. Cohen had reportedly acquired the work from casino mogul Steven A. Wynn around 1999 for about $35million/40million. Despite the painting’s rarity, some observers said Sotheby’s £20million/30million estimate was too expensive. Buyers agreed, and the lot sold for a low-estimate hammer price of £20million to adviser Franck Giraud, of Giraud, Pissarro, Ségalot, New York and Paris. With premium, the painting’s final price was £22.4million ($33million). When Wynn bought the painting, at the sale of the Loeb Collection at Christie’s New York in 1997, the price was $18.7million.

The second-highest lot of the evening was André Derain’s painting Arbres à Collioure, 1905, offered from the Vollard Col­lection. The Fauvist work sold for £16.3million ($24million), well above its estimate of £9million/14million. It was one of several significant artworks discovered in a Paris vault in 1979, part of the holdings of dealer Ambroise Vollard, which had been stored there for over four decades. The third-highest lot was Odalisques jouant aux dames, 1928, by Henri Matisse, which sold for £11.8million ($17.4million) on an estimate of £10million/15million.

Following the sale, Melanie Clore, Sotheby’s cochair of Impressionist and modern art, said the results “demonstrate the strength of the international demand for top-quality works.” Of 51 works on offer in the sale, 35, or 69 percent, were sold. By value the auction was 83.5percent sold.

Christie’s sale was led by Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period Portrait d’Angel Fernández de Soto, 1903, which just cleared the low end of its £30million/40million estimate to bring a £31million hammer price, £34.8million ($51.6million) with premium. The painting was consigned from the collection of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the proceeds will benefit the London-based Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation.

Lloyd Webber had consigned the painting to Christie’s evening Impressionist sale in the fall of 2006, where it carried a $40million/60million estimate, but the lot was withdrawn just before the sale after a last-minute restitution claim by Julius Schoeps, who said the work had been stolen from his grandfather, Jewish banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, in Nazi Germany. Earlier this year the Lloyd Webber foundation reached a settlement with Schoeps and the other heirs, the terms of which were not disclosed (ANL, 1/26/10).

The second-highest price of Christie’s sale was £18.8million ($27.9million), paid for Gustav Klimt’s painting Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III), 1917–18, which carried an estimate of £14million/18million. Ria Munk committed suicide in 1911 after a falling-out with Klimt, her lover, and the painting is thought to have been among the several unfinished paintings that were left in the artist’s studio after his death.

Soon after Klimt’s death, in 1918, the work was acquired by Ria’s mother, Aranka Munk, but in 1941 it was seized by the Gestapo and passed into the hands of collector and dealer Wolfgang Gurlitt. In 1953, Frauenbildnis was among a number of important paintings that Gurlitt donated to the Neue Galerie der Stadt, Linz, Austria, now the Lentos Museum. The painting subsequently remained in the Lentos Museum, until June 2009, when it was restituted to Aranka Munk’s heirs, according to Christie’s catalogue.

The third-highest lot, Picasso’s Le baiser, 1969, hit the top of its £8million/12million estimate, selling for £12.1million ($18million).

Of 62 lots on offer, 46, or 75 percent, found buyers. By value, the auction was 74 percent sold. Giovanna Bertazzoni, director and head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s London, noted “significant levels of spending, particularly for the rarest and most exceptional works of art.”

A detailed report on the London sales of Impressionist and modern and Postwar and contemporary art will be published in the next issue of ARTnewsletter.

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