Sotheby’s struggled to put on a brave face following last evening’s Impressionist and Modern auction, where a number of strong sales belied the weak market and offset a few serious losses. The sale performed relatively well by lot. All but seven of the scant 36 works offered found buyers, the highest sell-through rate in two years, as Sotheby’s was quick to point out. However, the total, $61.4 million, fell considerably short of the $81.5 to $118 million expected, and was a far cry from last season’s approximately $224 million take from only 45 of 70 lots sold.
Capitalizing on the particular form of spring fever surrounding Picasso — weeks after opening at Gagosian Gallery, the late master’s show still sends lines of gallery goers snaking down West 21st Street — Sotheby’s banked on La fille de l’artiste à deux ans et demi avec un bateau (1938) as its catalogue cover image. The painting of the artist’s then-young daughter, Maya, was expected to fetch between $16 and $24 million. Following just a single nod from an unnamed bidder, however, the lot tanked at $12.25 million — an undoubted disappointment for its seller, Bernie Madoff victim William Achenbaum, who runs the Gansevoort Hotel Group. (Christie’s also chose Picasso as its cover boy: Mousquetaire a la Pipe, a late work from 1968 estimated at $12 to 18 million occupies the front, while Julian Schnabel’s Femme au Chapeau takes the back.) Alberto Giacometti’s 1959 bronze, Le Chat, also proved an unequivocal loss, as the lot stalled without a single bid against its $16 – $24 million estimate.
There were successes at Sotheby’s sale: Piet Mondrian’s Composition in Black and White, with Double Lines (1934) was the evening’s top earner, raking in nearly double its $5 million high estimate at $9.2 million. Some attributed social capital as a driving force behind the sale, as the residual effects of Christie’s February auction of the estate of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé are still being felt in the market; several of the top lots were Mondrians, and the Louvre museum’s Abu Dhabi location was said to have paid $24.5 million for one canvas from 1922.
A series of smaller sales bolstered the evening. Impressionist works were in high demand, as several properties from the fabled collection of Henry O. and Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer sold for well above their estimated values, including Camille Pissarro’s Inondation à Pontoise, which sold for $2,994,500 (it was initially estimated at $900.000 – $1.2 million). German fashion designer Wolfgang Joop sold four paintings by the Polish Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka for a total of $13.8 million. At $4.9 million (est. $4-6 million) Lempika’s Portrait de Marjorie Ferry (1932) set an auction record for the artist.
[Click through the slide show above for the top lots from Sotheby’s Modern and Impressionist evening sale. Note that final prices include the commission paid to Sotheby’s: 25 percent of the first $50,000; 20 percent of the next $50,000 to $1 million; and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.]