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!