ARTnewsletter Archive

Auction Roundup: Mood Is Upbeat at Major German Houses

German auctioneers had ample reason to celebrate as results showed a fairly strong and steady market ranging from Old Master paintings to vintage photographs.

BERLIN—German auctioneers had ample reason to celebrate as results showed a fairly strong and steady market ranging from Old Master paintings to vintage photographs. Lempertz of Cologne held the most important auction in Germany this spring: Old Masters (predominantly Dutch 17th Century), including numerous works from the Frank Collection (Westphalia). The overall result was €19.3 million ($25 million), including €3.3 million ($4.3 million) for decorative arts. The Old Master paintings total was a record, and, according to the auction house, was its most successful in 20 years.

Dutch painter Gerrit Dou, founding father of the Leiden school of “fijnschilders,” or “precision painters,” was the highest-priced artist of the evening with a 1649 panel of an old painter in his studio. Once the property of the Wittelsbacher family—and later of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, which sold it for financial reasons in the 1920s—it came back on the market with an estimate of €1.8 million/2.2 million. The piece rose to €3.8 million ($4.9 million) and became the third most expensive Dou painting internationally, and, simultaneously, the most expensive Old Master painting ever auctioned in Germany. The buyer was London dealer Johnny van Haeften, who also made several other purchases at the Lempertz Old Masters sale.

Other notable results included €1.89 million ($2.46 million), compared with a €800,000/1.2 million estimate, for a Hendrick Avercamp winter landscape showing people frolicking on a frozen lake.

Photography was a strong point as well. The modern classics came out on top, such as August Sander’s landscape view titled Der Rhein bei Boppard, taken in 1938 and printed in the 1950s. Vintage Sander prints—those made within a year or so of the original image—are extremely rare. It is one of Sander’s most important landscapes, experts said, and carried an estimate of €8,000, but sold for a final price of €18,300 ($23,790).

Modern art made more than €8.6 million ($11.2 million), and was 150 percent sold by value (i.e., 50 percent over the sum of the estimates of all lots, not just those sold).

The top lot was a portrait by Paula Modersohn-Becker. The piece, which depicts a little girl holding a piece of fruit and sitting by a birch tree, achieved €390,000 ($507,000) on an estimate of €180,000/220,000.

Contemporary art proved to be rather strong as well, with a comparatively tiny, overpainted image by Gerhard Richter, from the original “RAF-series.” The final version of the series is in New York’s Museum of Modern Art—three images had been culled from it, getting into private collections. The image, based on the starved Holger Meins, was estimated at €150,000/200,000 and sold for €390,000 ($507,000), a high price for such a small work by Richter.

Villa Grisebach in Berlin also had success, turning over €13.6 million ($17.7 million) in four days, ahead of the house’s 200th jubilee auction this fall. The top lot was a 1908 landscape by Gabriele Münter showing Starnberg lake. Estimated at €300,000, it fetched €732,000 ($951,000) and was bought by an Austrian private collector. Villa Grisebach’s second, 19th-century art auction gave a somewhat lackluster performance, with a top price of €173,400 ($225,400), three times the estimate, for a male portrait (head) by Wilhelm Leibl being the rare standout. For photography, Grisebach took in €756,000 ($982,800). Most important were early prints by Mies van der Rohe, the interior view of the Barcelona Pavilion, fetching €63,440 ($82,500), against an estimate of €1,500/2,500.

Meanwhile, Ketterer Kunst of Munich saw a gain of €1 million ($1.3 million), compared to last year’s spring auctions, making a total of €13 million ($16.9 million). The modern art auction included a Münter landscape, Staffelsee mit rotem Haus, 1908. Bidding started at €90,000 ($117,000) and ended at €164,700 ($214,110). Bidding on another Münter landscape, Abend am See, 1916, started at €220,000 ($286,000) and the successful bidder, a collector from Southern Germany, had to go as far as €415,000 ($539,500) before winning the work.

A record was set for Lorenzo Viani when Dame mit Chrysantheme, 1911, rose from €32,000 ($41,600) to €189,100 ($245,830), driven by offers from Germany, Italy, Greece and Belgium. The work’s new home is a private collection in Hesse, Germany.

Contemporary art was solid as well. A work by Serge Poliakoff, estimated to fetch €250,000, landed at €525,000 ($682,500). A work by “Zero” co-founder Heinz Mack rose from €28,000 ($36,400) to €183,000 ($247,900). The “New Leipzig” school also did very well, with 80 percent of lots sold. David Schnell’s Schneise rose from €25,000 ($32,500) to €109,800 ($142,740).