ARTnewsletter Archive

Single-Artist Auctions of Brancusi, Utrillo Fetch Strong Prices

At Artcurial Briest, Poulain, F. Tajan in Paris on Nov. 30, two separate auctions with a focus on individual artists saw robust results.

PARIS—At Artcurial Briest, Poulain, F. Tajan in Paris on Nov. 30, two separate auctions with a focus on individual artists saw robust results. These included the remainder of the Constantin Brancusi estate and, in an earlier sale, an important group of paintings by popular Parisian artist Maurice Utrillo, the son of Suzanne Valodon, who was known for his street scenes.

Upon his death, Brancusi bequeathed the contents of his studio (which included most of his work) to the French government. The works are currently presented in a replica of his atelier adjacent to the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris.

The eclectic group of works, objects and memorabilia sold at auction revealed a hidden side of the artist; they had been given to his friends, an artist couple Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati, his close collaborators during the last decade of his life. For the 51 lots in the collection, 42 sold, with 30 surpassing their high estimate. The sale brought a total of €1.6 million ($2 million), just over its estimate of €1.5 million/2.1 million. The auction was 83 percent sold by lot and 85 percent by value.

The top lot of the auction was a rare item: The Kiss (Column), 1935–37, a four-part stone and plaster sculpture given to the couple by the artist in 1950. It fetched €950,000 ($1.2 million) against an estimate of €800,000/1.2 million.

The sale included more banal, functional objects crafted or transformed by the artist and clearly reflecting his personality and artistic style, from some of his sculpture tools to plates and knitting needles, a coffee mill in hammered copper, a wooden flute and a lemon juicer.

The highest prices attained for these objects were for two lampposts whose stone bases were sculpted in the form of a cross, which sold well above their estimates of €60,000/80,000 each: one went for €118,300 ($150,619) and the other for €93,500 ($119,054).

Among the artist’s intimate handmade items were also a wooden pipe that fetched €15,300 ($19,487), tripling its estimate of €4,000/5,000, and a plaster vase, ca. 1940, which doubled its low estimate (€20,000/30,000), bringing €47,600 ($60,659).

A beige suitcase that still contained some of the artist’s clothes sold for €20,400 ($25,937), ten times its low estimate (€2,000/3,000).

Brancusi’s painted metal mailbox, marked Istrati/Brancusi, sold for €44,000, far higher than its estimate of €5,000/7,000. Other items sold included two knives in white inox (stainless steel), estimated at €600/800 and sold for €7,906 ($10,068), and a lantern in red sheet metal that sold for €4,845 ($6,171) against an estimate of €200/300. An object not made or transformed by Brancusi was Vis sans fin de pressoir (Endless Screw), a wooden press screw from his adolescence that he kept in his studio, and was said to have inspired his famous sculpture Endless Column. It brought €81,000 ($103,271), meeting its high estimate (€60,000/80,000).

Utrillo Event, 95 Percent Sold, Yields $6.9 Million

Said to be the most important trove of Utrillo works ever to appear at auction, the ensemble came from the private collection of his dealer, Paul Pétridès, who died in 1993. It was sold by his son, Gilbert. The 30 lots brought a total of €5.5 million ($6.9 million), with 95 percent sold by value, surpassing the estimate of €3 million/5 million.

The top lot was Paravent, a folding screen from 1939 made of four oil paintings on canvas mounted on wooden panels, which sold for €835,500 ($1.1 million) against an estimate of E450,000/600,000. It was the highest price for a work sold at auction by Utrillo since 1990.

Le marchand de couleurs à Saint-Ouen, a 1908 painting, sold for €316,500 ($403,100), doubling its high estimate (€120,000/160,000). Le Café de la Tourelle, rue du Mont-Cenis à Montmartre, ca. 1935, also beat expectations, selling for €304,000 ($387,000) on an estimate of €170,000/250,000.

Rue de Meaux et le château, La Ferté-Milon, ca. 1914, surpassed estimates (€120,000/160,000), selling for €236,000 ($291,000). Théâtre de l’Atelier, Montmartre, ca. 1932, (estimate: €140,000/180,000), fetched €273,000 ($347,900).

Also beating estimates were Rue Saint-Rustique sous la neige, an oil on cardboard, 1944, which sold for €260,800 ($332,100) on an estimate of €140,000/180,000 and La rue du Mont-Cenis sous la neige, an oil on canvas, ca. 1935, which brought €260,800 ($332,100) against an estimate of €180,000-250,000; La rue Tholozé à Montmartre, ca. 1912–1914, from the artist’s popular “white period,” sold within estimate (€180,000/250,000), for €242,000 ($298,600).