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Sotheby’s $160M Imp/Mod Auction: Small But Solid

Modern art again led the way at Sotheby’s much shorter sale on June 22 which saw 32 out of 35 lots sell for £97 million ($157.5 million) against a pre-sale estimate of £77.3 million/111.2 million.

LONDON—Modern art again led the way at Sotheby’s much shorter sale on June 22 which saw 32 out of 35 lots sell for £97 million ($157.5 million) against a pre-sale estimate of £77.3 million/111.2 million.

The sale contained the highest-selling lot of the week in an Egon Schiele townscape, Hauser mit bunter Wasche (Vorstadt II), 1914, which had been sent for sale by the Leopold Museum in Vienna to pay for Schiele’s famous Portrait of Wally—the subject of a lengthy restitution case. Although art historians might consider such landscapes inferior to his portraits (because they are more design-oriented than his portraits which are more graphic), the painting, which had an irrevocable bid, sold after just two phone bids for a record £24.7 million ($40.1 million), compared with an estimate of £22 million/30 million, almost doubling the previous record for Schiele. The winning bid was placed through Sotheby’s head of Russia, Mark Poltimore.

Also guaranteed with an irrevocable bid was Alberto Giacometti’s small bronze cast, Trois hommes qui marchent, II, 1948, which sold, again without much competition, to Frank Giraud, of Giraud, Pissarro, Ségalot, for £10.7 million ($17.4 million) compared with an estimate of £10 million/15 million. There was more competition on a third guaranteed lot, Tamara de Lempicka’s Dormeuse, 1930, which sold to a U.S. collector for £4 million, a record in U.S. dollars of $6.6 million, on an estimate of £2.2 million/3.2 million—a big increase on the painting’s previous auction price of $294,000 at Christie’s New York in May 1997.

As at Christie’s, Pablo Picasso was among the top sellers, but here it was his late work on offer. Couple le Baiser, 1969, did not attract much competition, and sold for £6.5 million ($10.6 million) compared with an estimate of £6 million/8 million, still a good return on the $588,000 paid by the consignor at Sotheby’s New York in November 1993. But his Homme a la pipe et nu couche, 1967, was more reasonably estimated at £1.5 million/2.5 million, and attracted multiple bids, before falling to dealer Ezra Nahmad for £4.8 million ($7.8 million). Nahmad also snapped up Joan Miró’s Vipere exasperee devant l’oiseau rouge, 1955 for £1.9 million ($3.1 million), compared with an estimate of £2 million/3.2 million.

Demand for works by Rene Magritte was strong again at this sale. The artist’s tiny gouache, L’empire des lumieres, 1955, measured just 7-by-9 inches, but fetched the second-highest price ever for a Magritte work on paper, doubling estimates at £2.4 million ($3.9 million), compared with an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million. Another, less iconic Magritte gouache, Perspective, 1949, sold to London dealer Richard Nagy, for £505,250 ($819,318) compared with an estimate of £400,000/600,000.

Other buyers at the sale were Daniella Luxembourg who bought Paul Klee’s oil Stadtburg Kr, 1932, for £2.6 million ($4.3 million), compared with an estimate of £2 million/3 million, and Oslo dealer Ben Frija, who bought Rodin’s lifetime cast of Eve, Petit Modele, 1883, for £1.9 million ($3.1 million) against an estimate of £1.3 million/2.2 million.

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