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A Bigger Version of Christie’s $22 M. Léger Sold in 2001 for $5.7 M.

The work in question. COURTESY CHRISTIE'S

The work in question.

COURTESY CHRISTIE’S

One of the top lots at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Sale this Wednesday evening will be Fernand Léger’s Les constructeurs avec arbre (1949–50), a penis-heavy oil on canvas work that clocks in at 42 5/8 x 54 3/8 inches. It carries a guarantee and its estimate is high, $16 million to $22 million.

File this under “something interesting to keep in mind”: another oil on canvas work, nearly identical to this one in year color and content, sold in 2001 at Phillips (then Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg) for just $5.7 million. And that work, Les quatre constructeurs sur fond jaune, from the collection of Nathan and Marion Smooke, was about two-thirds bigger than this one (67 1/2 x 75 1/2 inches). (The Christie’s work has in the past been owned by Steven A. Wynn, who hung it in one of his casinos; Gagosian Gallery; and the Sara Lee Corporation.)

What does that all mean? Well, Léger’s $39.2 million auction record, for La femme en bleu (study) (1912–13), was attained in 2008, so if you believe the wisdom that a rising auction tide lifts all boats, it’d follow that a high record like that would result in dramatically higher prices across the board. Of course, things don’t always work that way. And it is a little surprising to see a painting that is fairly identical, but smaller, quadruple a price like that in just 13 years.

All that’s really clear here is that Jeffrey Loria—the art dealer, Miami Marlins owner, and reportedly the buyer on the bigger version—got a deal!

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