Christie’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale concluded with what many dealers and auction house staff would call a sigh of relief. Christopher Burge, the evening’s auctioneer, handled the less than buoyant sale with his usual aplomb. Guy Jennings, a European art dealer and the buyer of lot 10 Picasso, Mere et enfant, called it, “A reasonable performance… Burge handled it very well” referring to the uneven enthusiasm for the evening’s material. There were surely some rough moments, and at times, Burge literally had no bids and discretely “passed” the lots.
Of the 40 lots on offer, 28 sold (70% by lot and 71% by dollar amount, which includes the buyers premium). All told, the sale earned $65,674,000. International dealer David Nahmad said, “It was a great evening as far as the works go, there is very little supply on the market.” This seemed to be the overall consensus: Considering the lack of true blockbuster material, not a bad evening after all.
As expected, collectors responded favorably to works that were both fresh to the market and rare. The top lot for the evening was lot 22 Edgar Degas, Danseuses, a beautifully crafted pastel on paper. When several bidders dropped out, bidding came down to two telephone bids; the work finally sold to a private Asian client on the phone with Ken Yeh, a Deputy Chairman of Christie’s Asia. One of the most sought-after lots of the evening was a very rare Auguste Rodin, Le Basier, moyen modele dit:”Taille de la Porte.” This bronze cast is one of five made from the famous Milwaukee Museum plaster, executed 1887–1901, during Rodin’s lifetime. Very few of these works come up for auction. There were bids all over the room, and it was one of the more exciting moments of the evening. Chris Eykyn of Eykyn and Maclean were the successful bidders—at $6,354,500, against a pre-sale estimate of $1.5–2 million. (Left: lot 22, Edgar Degas, Danseuses)
There were several other hotly contested lots-Paul Signac’s Vieux port de Cannes, for example-the under-bidder was Citibank advisor Jonathan Binstock, but the work finally sold on the phone to Giovanna Bertazzoni from Christie’s London, speaking with an anonymous client. In fact, most of the action seemed to come from Christie’s army of phone bidders. The luminous Monet serial paintings depicting a small town on the Seine, Vetheuil, effet de soleil, an oil on canvas from 1901, sold to an American collector for $5,458,500, against an estimated $5–7 million.
Some modern works sold well. Salvador Dali’s Nu dans la plaine de Rosas, an oil on canvas work from 1942 estimated at $2–3 million, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $4,002,5000 including buyers premium. Perhaps inspired by the Guggenheim’s Kandinsky retrospective, lot 15, the artist’s Winkelschwung, an oil on board from 1929, sold to a European private collector for $2,658,500 against a pre-sale estimate of $1.5 –2.5million. Works by Tamara de Lempicka are gaining new traction in the evening sales. Portrait du Marquis Sommi, a classic art deco canvas, sold for $4,338,500 against an estimate of $2–3 million, a very good price for a male portrait.
There were some surprising disappointments: a Pissarro Pontois scene, lot 6 from 1873, found only one bidder and failed to meet its reserve. And while the estimates appeared tame compared to boom times, Burge noted that Impressionist works fared well, while “the Modern works are still recalibrating.” In other words, the prices might not yet be low enough. The Portrait of Dora Maar, lot 33, found no takers at $7–10 million. Neither did the Piet Mondrian from the Nahmad dealers; the work was estimated to sell for $4.5–6.5 million, possibly too steep and not fresh enough to the market. The Matisse cut-out was another disappointment, estimated at $3–4 million. It’s an interesting work but apparently a tough sell.