BERLIN—Turnover in the German auction market fell as much as 40 percent last year compared with that of the years before. This year’s autumn season, however, saw a number of strong sales at the two biggest German auction houses, Lempertz, Cologne, and Villa Grisebach, Berlin.
Because the German market is relatively small, German auction offerings are often interesting to the art-world bargain hunter, as good quality sometimes comes at much lower prices than those seen in the U.S. or the U.K.
Lempertz introduced a new sale schedule this season, with two separate evening auctions for the top lots of modern and contemporary art on Dec. 3. There were 37 lots of modern art and 29 contemporary lots in the new special auction, which yielded a total of €11.5million ($15.1million), an increase of €1.5million ($2million) from autumn of last year. In addition to sale results for Old Masters, applied art and Asian art, the year’s total sales for Lempertz were €49million ($64.2million), up 40 percent over 2009’s figures. In 2010, Villa Grisebach posted sales of €32million ($41.92million), an increase of 10 percent over last year’s figures.
The top lot in the modern section at Lempertz was Femme et jeune garçon nus, mardi 3 juin 1969, a work on paper by Pablo Picasso, which bore a Galérie Leiris (Paris) and Beyeler (Bâle) provenance and a €500,000/600,000 estimate. The work sold to a French dealer for €1.1million ($1.46million).
Prices for all other notable works stayed within six figures, such as a terra-cotta bust by Wilhelm Lehmbruck, a preliminary work for the artist’s famous Knieende (Girl Kneeling), 1912/14, also known as Geneigter Frauenkopf (Inclined Head of a Woman). There are only a few copies known, and the lot reached a price of €696,000 ($912,000) on an estimate of €550,000/600,000.
An untitled canvas by recently deceased artist Sigmar Polke (1941–2010) drew spirited bidding. Estimated at €380,000/400,000, the work sold to a British dealer for €648,000 ($849,000). The auction included a number of important works of informel, the German variety of Postwar abstraction. Emil Schumacher’s late work Monta 1, 1991, was estimated to fetch €150,000, but it sold for €216,000 ($283,000) to an unidentified private collector.
The auction of photographs was notable in so far as four images of French coal mine frames taken by Bernd and Hilla Becher sold for €138,000 ($181,000), a new auction record for a Becher work. A U.S. collector bought a double-exposure photograph of nudes, 1930/36, by Heinz Hajek-Halke for €13,000 ($17,000), above the estimate of €8,000/10,000.
Villa Grisebach, also had a solid photo auction on Nov. 25. The overall estimate was €450,000 ($590,000), and the sale total was €512,000 ($671,000). Grisebach officials noted strong interest for contemporary photography.
The top lot was Hiroshi Sugimoto’s U.A. Rivoli, New York, 1978 (in a later gelatin silver print). Estimated at €20,000/25,000, it sold for €39,040 ($51,142). Observers said that this was a lofty price for a later print, but given the short supply of vintage prints on the market, collectors are clearly willing to pay top dollar for later prints.
The total auction series at Villa Grisebach brought in €17.6million ($23million). On Nov. 25, a special auction was devoted to works by Lesser Ury, underscoring the strength of demand for his oeuvre. Estimated at E830,000, the lots fetched a total of €1.83million ($2.4million). London im Nebel (Fog in London), 1926, was most expensive of the Ury paintings, selling for €451,000 ($591,000) against an estimate of €150,000/200,000.
In the traditional “Ausgewählte Werke” (selected works) session, Emil Nolde’s Landschaft mit ruhenden Kühen (Landscape with Cows Resting), 1925, emerged at the top of the sold lots, selling for €1.04million ($1.36million), below the E1million/1.3million estimate in hammer price. That lot was followed by Kleines Varieté (Small Vaudeville), 1933, a painting by Max Beckmann, which sold for €915,000 ($1.2million) against an estimate of €800,000/1.2million.
A U.S. private collector fought valiantly for four screenprints by Andy Warhol with the portrait of Joseph Beuys, 1980. Easily clearing the hurdle of a €80,000 estimate ($100,000), the work was sold for €146,000 ($191,260).