Christie’s brought in $165.64 million at its Impressionist and modern auction earlier this evening, a tight, hour-long affair that met the relatively modest goals the house set for itself, with just 4 of the 39 lots failing to find buyers, and 20 of those selling for above their high estimates. That total fell near the evening’s high estimate of $157 million (which is calculated without the buyer’s premiums), though it paled in comparison to Sotheby’s house-best $422 million haul last night.
The star lot of the evening by far was Manet’s 1881 painting of a woman, Le Printemps, which set a new record for the artist when it sold for $65.1 million to the dealer Otto Naumann, with Christie’s Impressionist and modern head of department, Brooke Lampley, on the phone as the underbidder with Acquavella Galleries. It was the only artist record of the night, easily beating Manet’s previous record of about $33.28 million at Sotheby’s London in 2010, according to Artnet’s price database.
Nauman, bidding through a younger representative with a suspiciously hip haircut (the press bullpen speculated aloud about how the younger man, in periwinkle socks, might afford something like that), jumped into the action relatively late in the 8-minute contest, throwing out his first bid at $47 million and breaking through the clutter of some five Christie’s phone bidders who’d been squabbling since the lot’s opening bid of $18 million. Naumann clearly wanted it more. After some cajoling from Lampley, Acquavella offered $57 million, to which Naumann offered, without hesitation, $58 million. “He comes right back!” yelled auctioneer Andreas Rumbler, as though officiating a sport of some kind, and with genuine awe.
(Rumbler was more stoic during the major failure of the night, lot 28, a late Léger expected to bring in between $16 million and $22 million. He let it stand at $15.5 million for nearly three minutes before allowing it to be bought in.)
Art advisor Jude Hess picked up lot 19 (an 1886 Renoir, for $5.77 million) and lot 25 (a 1918 Braque still life, for $4.65 million), with David Nahmad the underbidder, and also bid on lot 26, the second-highest lot of the night, a Giacometti, which saw at least three other bidders and sold for $9.91 million.
With the room a quarter empty to begin with, what few dealers were present could talk about nothing with journalists beyond how good the Manet is. At the sale’s press conference, Lampley emphasized the sale’s by-lot percentage, and noted that 31 of the 35 lots sold went for above $1 million (though, 17 of those, of course, also sold for below $2 million.)
It was some top-notch spin for a sale that didn’t even really need it! For some of the works that sold tonight she even listed the prices they went for back in 1966 and 1974, and said that in 1983 the Giacometti sold for just $380,000. “So if that helps us all make the argument that art is a sound investment,” she said, gesturing to the journalists as though this was their actual job, “please feel free to use that information.”
The fall auction season continues in New York next week at the postwar and contemporary auctions.