The big-picture auction season started Sunday evening at Christie’s in New York with a rather underwhelming Impressionist and modern sale that garnered a tepid $279.3 million.
Only nine of the 61 lots offered failed to sell for a decent buy-in rate by lot of 15 percent but pricey casualties by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh stunted the outcome.
The tally fell shy of the low end of presale expectations that the auction would net somewhere between $304.7 million and $439.6 million. (Bear in mind that estimates do not include the buyer’s premium.) The total also trailed far behind last November’s $479.3 million auction, which included a Vincent van Gogh painting, Laboureur dans un champ (1889), that fetched $81.3 million.
Of the 52 lots that sold, 41 made over a million dollars, eight exceeded $10 million dollars, and two made over $20 million.
Eight lots were backed by so-called third-party guarantees, and one lot came with a house guarantee.
Two works set artist records, including the racy Tamara de Lempicka oil painting La Musicienne (1929), which made $9.1 million (estimated at $6 million–$8 million.)
All prices reported include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium commission for each lot sold calculated at 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including $250,000, 20 percent on that part over $250,000 and up to and including $4 million, and 12.5 percent for anything above that figure.
Tonight’s auction, the first of its kind held on a Sunday evening (which is usually the art world’s only day of rest), attracted a good crowd at the firm’s Rockefeller Center headquarters. Given the packed week of both Impressionist and modern, contemporary, and single-owner evening sales, there was no other choice but to start that night.
The action began with a decidedly somber Pablo Picasso oil, Femme assise (Françoise), 1953, that brought in a hefty $2.9 million, topping its high estimate of $1.2 million. From there, the sale perked up with Salvador Dalí’s Adolescence (1941), a gouache on magazine cover that sold for $1.5 million.
The Picasso last sold at Christie’s New York in November 2004 for $444,300, and the Dalí was auctioned at Sotheby’s New York way back in November 1990 for $231,000.
Another Dalí—this one sourced from the estate of storied private art dealer and connoisseur Eugene V. Thaw, and titled A Trombone and a Sofa Fashioned Out of Saliva (1936)—sold to London dealer Alan Hobart for $2.2 million (est. $1.2–1.8 million).
The price points rose when Alberto Giacometti’s superb and seemingly weightless bronze Femme assise (1957) hit the block. That work sold to Greek collector Dimitri Mavrommatis for $13.8 million (est. $14 million–$18 million), and had been backed by a third-party guarantee.
The bronze, which had never before been sold at auction, was once owned by Emily Brausen, the founder of Hanover Gallery in London, who helped make Giacometti’s career.
A second Giacometti entry bearing the same estimate but quite a different provenance—Le Chat, conceived in plaster in 1951 and cast in bronze in 1955, and formerly held in the esteemed collection of Baroness Johanna Lambert, who acquired it directly from the artist in 1955—sold to a telephone bidder for $17.2 million. It’s possible there’s never been a skinnier or more expensive cat.
In stark contrast to the spindly beauty of the Giacometti woman, the curvaceous form of Jean Arp’s Déméter (1961), a hand-carved white marble sculpture that was once part of a trove from the estate of Herbert and Adele Klapper, brought in a record $5.8 million (est. $2 million–$3 million). The work went to an anonymous telephone bidder.
Another Klapper highlight was Pablo Picasso’s pastel Femme accoudée, which sold to another telephone bidder for $12.1 million (est. $10 million–$15 million).
Buste de femme (Dora Maar), 1939, a portrait of one of the Spaniard artist’s mistresses, continued the parade of Picasso femmes this evening, and went for $7.7 million (est. $5 million–$8 million). It last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2014 for $6.1 million; tonight’s sum is not a bad return, given the brief period between the times the painting has come up for auction.
The same could not be said of one of the sale’s pricier casualties, Picasso’s Femme au béret orange et au col de fourrure (Marie-Therese), 1937, which was bought in at a chandelier bid of $14 million (est. $15 million–$20 million). It last sold at Christie’s New York in November 2013 for $12.2 million.
Meanwhile, Picasso’s Buste de femme au voile bleu, a 1924 canvas dating from Picasso’s Neoclassical period, made $7.6 million (est. $8 million–$12 million). That work’s red sweater–wearing buyer, who was seated in the front row of the salesroom, was accompanied by a leashed French bulldog donning a black harness.
A bit later in the sale, the same buyer snagged Picasso’s Tête de femme (1952) for $2.4 million (est. $2.5 million–$4.5 million). The work was deaccesssioned by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to benefit its acquisition fund.
Buttonholed as he left the salesroom, the buyer would only say, “I’m very private.” At that instant, his female companion interjected. “I’m sorry, but this is my client,” she said, and bum-rushed him to the stairway.
But the star of the sale’s 15-work Picasso sampler was the cover lot, La Lampe, featuring the artist’s young and then-secret mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, who is shown here in profile, backlit by a golden light. The 1931 painting fetched $29.6 million (est. $25 million–$35 million), and was backed by an anonymous third-party guarantee. Having never before appeared at auction, the work was part of the artist’s immense estate and was inherited by Maya Widmaier-Picasso, the daughter of Walter and the artist, according to the catalogue entry. She sold the painting privately to tonight’s consignor in 2008. The painting was previously offered at Sotheby’s New York in November 2007, when it was estimated to sell for $25-35 million and was bought in at a chandelier bid of $21 million
The Picasso entries accounted for $88.8 million of the evening’s take.
On the Impressionism front, which sees fewer top-notch properties with each sale, Camille Pissarro’s stunning Parisian streetscape La Rue Saint-Lazare, temps lumineux (1893), the pendant to the canvas at the Art Institute of Chicago, realized $12.4 million (est. $8–12 million). It last sold at auction at Sotheby’s in New York in 2001 for $6.6 million and subsequently sold privately in 2009 to tonight’s consignor.
A pricier entry from Claude Monet’s series of Giverny paintings, Le basin aux nymphéas (1917–19), went to another telephone bidder, later identified by Adrien Meyer, the evening’s auctioneer and co-chairman of the Impressionist and modern department, as a Chinese client, for the price $31.8 million (est. $30 million–$50 million), making it the top lot of the sale.
Though handsomely scaled at 39¾ by 79 inches, this painting, made late in the French artist’s career, is stamped with Monet’s signature (as opposed to having been signed by the Impressionist himself), meaning it never left his studio before his death. The market puts a premium on signed works from the series. Le basin aux nymphéas last sold at auction at Christie’s New York in May 2000 for $6.8 million.
Six other Monets came up for sale that evening. The second one, a wintry landscape called Effet de neige à Giverny (1893), blew past expectations, drawing at least five bidders and eventually realizing $15.5 million (est. $5 million–$8 million).
Oddly—or so it seemed, at least—if there was a take home trophy to choose from, one might have bet on Vincent van Gogh’s tantalizing landscape, Coin de jardin avec papillons (1887), a close-up view of part of a garden. (The painting had an unpublished estimate in the region of $40 million.) With its fluttering butterflies and rhapsodic atmosphere, the painting exquisitely articulates every blade of grass in its view.
But, to the surprise of the salesroom audience, the picture was bought in at a chandelier bid of $30 million.
“It was an extraordinary work that bore an ambitious estimate,” said Max Carter, Christie’s Impressionist and modern department head, after the auction. He wasn’t kidding.
“The material was a little mixed,” said Chelsea dealer Maxwell Davidson, who bought Camille Pissarro’s charming market scene Le Marche de Gisors, Grande-Rue (1885) for $972,500 (est. $1 million–$1.5 million). “It was a quiet evening because it wasn’t that exciting.”
The evening action resumes with more Impressionist and modern fare at Sotheby’s on Monday.