LONDON—Christie’s opened the series on Feb. 4 with its lengthiest-ever evening sale of Impressionist and modern art that encompassed 131 lots, including a section of 35 Surrealist works. Carrying a presale estimate of £89/112 million (excluding premium), the auction came in nearer the low estimate, realizing a premium-inclusive £105.4 million ($207.4 million).
Nonetheless, it was the second-highest on record for a London Impressionist and modern sale. The total surpassed the Christie’s sale a year ago that fetched £89.7 million, or $176.3 million, for 126 lots on offer (ANL, 2/20/07, pp. 3-4), but was down from June’s record for a European sale of £121 million ($240 million) for 63, or 88 percent, of the 72 lots on offer (ANL, 7/10/07, pp. 5-6).
The unsold rate of 24 percent proved higher than at either of the previous two auctions. But this setback was balanced out by the success of most of the top lots. With 19th-century and Impressionist paintings taking a backseat, the auction was dominated by 20th-century modern works. A Pablo Picasso portrait of his mistress Dora Maar, Femme au chapeau, 1938—unsold in 2002 with an estimate of $4/6 million—won the top price, fall-ing to a private collector for £5.7 million, or $11.3 million (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million).
A late Picasso work, Homme assis au fusil, 1969, ran close behind at £5.6 million, or $11.1 million (estimate: £5/7 million). Although it attracted little bidding with that estimate, the price was still among the top five for a late Picasso. However, an early Picasso, Spanish Dancer, 1901—acquired in 1992 for $1.3 million—emerged as the main unsold lot (estimate: £3/4 million).
A classic, colorful still life by Juan Gris, Violon et journal, 1917—last sold in 1994 for $1.3 million—also attracted minimal bidding; nonetheless it posted one of the highest prices for a Cubist painting by any artist when it fetched £3.9 million, or $7.8 million (estimate: £3.5/4.5 million).
Most of the competition centered on early 20th-century art associated with the Fauvist or Expressionist movements that currently are favored by Russian buyers. L’Ouled Naïl, 1910, by Kees van Dongen, set an artist’s record, selling for £5.6 million or $11.1 million (estimate: £2/3 million); and Three Women Bathers, 1913, by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, set a record £3 million, or $6 million (estimate: £1/1.5 million). The same phone buyer, bidding through Christie’s European head of Impressionist and modern art Thomas Seydoux and described by the house as a private European buyer, also took Gabriele Münter’s (recto) Gelbes Haus mit Apfelbaum; (verso) Landschaft, 1910, for a record £535,700, or $1.1 million (estimate: £300,000/400,000).
Cementing the desirability of these Die Brücke works, a rare wood sculpture by Schmidt-Rottluff, Grüner Kopf, 1916-17, soared to a record £1.5 million, or $2.9 million (estimate: £250,000/350,000).
Schiele Watercolors Fetch $23 Million
Still raising funds to cover Ronald Lauder’s $173 million acquisition of works by Gustav Klimt and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner for the Neue Galerie, New York, through Christie’s in 2006, the gallery sent eight more drawings and watercolors by Egon Schiele for sale that realized £11.6 million ($22.9 million).
The top Schiele of the sale, from the Neue Galerie collection, Mutter und Kind, 1910, fell to specialist dealer Richard Nagy for £2.9 million, or $5.8 million (estimate: £1.5/2 million). Nagy also collected a Schiele charcoal on paper of a nude girl wearing an open coat, Mädchenakt mit pelzbesetztem Mantel, 1917, from the Neue Galerie for £468,500, or $922,000 (estimate: £300,000/400,000), against dealer James Roundell.
Several of the Schieles went to Ali Can Ertug, formerly part of Christie’s 19th-century European art team in New York, now working for Sotheby’s as vice president of business development. Speaking in English on his cellphone, he bought a small, 1910 self-portrait head, (recto) Selbstbildnis, Kopf; (verso) Porträt Hans Massmann, for £2 million, or $3.9 million (estimate: £700,000/£1 million); a slightly larger 1914 self-portrait, (recto) Selbstbildnis; (verso) Liegende Frau, for £2 million, or $3.9 million (estimate: £800,000/1.2 million); and a standing man, 1913, (recto) Stehender Mann; (verso) Liebespaar, for £1.7 million, or $3.3 million (estimate: £1.5/2 million). The specialist also bought a Schiele drawing of a reclining nude from a source other than the Neue Galerie—Langhaariger Akt, vornübergebeugt, Rückenansicht—for £144,500, or $284,400 (estimate: £120,000/160,000).
The Surrealist section pulled £12.6 million ($27.4 million) and was 80 percent sold by lot, compared with £15.7 million ($30.8 million) last February. The top price was £2.7 million, or $5.3 million (estimate: £2/3 million), given for René Magritte’s Le printemps, circa 1965; and a record was set for Max Ernst when his rare grattage, La Conversion du feu, 1937, made £1.2 million or $2.5 million (estimate: £750,000/1 million).
There were strong prices for works by Francis Picabia, led by a multilayered “transparency” portrait, Mi, 1929, in oil and crayon on panel, which earned £1.4 million, or $2.6 million (estimate: £400,000/600,000) against bidding from London’s Sadie Coles HQ gallery. Another, less-layered “transparency” portrait, Two Heads, 1935, sold to dealer Ezra Nahmad for £246,500, or $520,540 (estimate: £120,000/160,000). And David Nahmad acquired Joan Miró’s Femme, oiseau, 1972, for £737,300, or $1.45 million (estimate: £300,000/500,000).
U.S. buying was at its lowest in several years, accounting for just 15% of the lots. Europeans, including U.K. and Russian buyers, acquired 83% of the lots. Asian buying was also minimal, accounting for just 2% of lots that included Paul Signac’s Pont des arts, 1925, which sold to the Asian trade for £3 million, or $6 million (estimate: £3.5/4.5 million).
Guarantees were hardly an issue, with just five works carrying a combined low estimate of £4.7 million that sold for a premium-inclusive £7 million ($13.8 million).