LONDON—Christie’s evening Impressionist and modern art sale on Feb. 7 got London’s fortnight of major sales off to a flying start with a £135 million ($213 million) auction that exceeded its presale estimate of £86 million/127 million. Of 88 lots offered, 76, or 86 percent, were sold and the auction achieved several notable record prices. The sale was a big improvement on last February’s £84.9 million ($135.8 million) total, and included the traditional Surrealist art section, which achieved £37 million ($58.8 million), the highest yet for a Christie’s London Surrealist sale.
The top price was an unexpected £19.1 million ($30.1 million) record for a sculpture by Henry Moore; his monumental bronze, Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951, sold to Cologne dealer Alex Lachmann, who normally bids for Russian collectors, against a £3.5 million/5.5 million estimate. The previous high for Moore was £4.3 million ($8.4 million), set by Christie’s London in June 2008 for Draped Reclining Woman, 1957–58. Acquired in New York from Sotheby’s in May 1994 for $2 million, the sculpture was being sold by Sheldon Solow, a New York real estate developer.
Solow was also selling Moore’s monumental abstract Working Model for Three Piece No. 3: Vertebrae, 1968, which sold to a U.S. phone bidder for £5.1 million ($8 million) on a £2 million/3 million estimate. But his second most remarkable sale was the very early Joan Miró Painting Poem, 1925, which he had acquired at Christie’s in New York in November 1985 for a $770,000 hammer price. The painting attracted numerous bidders including New York dealer William Acquavella before selling to an anonymous phone bidder for a record £16.8 million ($26.6 million).
The sale was marked by the inclusion of several private collections which were a fresh to the market—a major factor in its success, said Christie’s head of Impressionist and modern art Giovanna Bertazzoni.
Three works from the collection of Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor doubled the low estimate to bring £13.8 million ($21.8 million) and were led by Vincent van Gogh’s Vue de l’aisle de la Chapelle de Saint-Remy, 1889, which sold for £10 million ($16 million), against a £5 million/7 million estimate, to a Russian-speaking phone bidder against Christie’s chairman of Asia, Ken Yeh, on another telephone. The same Russian bidder also acquired Paul Delvaux’s large Le Nue et la Mannequin, 1947. Last sold at Sotheby’s in New York in May 2007 for $3.06 million, the piece now sold for £3.4 million ($5.4 million).
A bigger mark up was registered for Paul Signac’s pointillist canvas La Corne d’Or, Constantinople, 1907, which last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2008 for $6.6 million and now achieved £8.8 million ($13.9 million).
Impressionist painting was in short supply, but fared well. Camille Pissarro’s Pommiers à Éragny, 1894, from the Elizabeth Taylor collection, doubled expectations to sell for £2.9 million ($4.7 million), compared with a presale estimate of £900,000/1.2 million. Claude Monet’s Le bras de Jeufosse, automne, 1884, sold to dealer Richard Green for £2.4 million ($3.8 million), against an estimate of £1.3 million/1.9 million.
In addition to Moore and Miró, new records were established for Robert Delaunay’s late version of Tour Eiffel, 1926, from the Hubertus Wald collection, which sold for £3.7 million ($5.9 million); Georges Vantongerloo’s Composition émanante de l’équation y=-ax2+bx+18…, 1930, also from the Hubertus Wald collection, which sold for £623,650 ($985,360), compared with an estimate of £150,000/250,000; and for late Surrealist Dorothea Tanning’s Le Miroir, 1950, which sold for £217,250 ($343,255), compared with an estimate of £50,000/80,0000.
Toronto dealer Robert Landau bid on the record Moore and the top-selling Delvaux, as well as several other lots, but secured only Jean Arp’s Tête avec moustache hérissée, 1926, for £325,250 ($513,895), compared with an estimate of £80,000/120,000, and Max Ernst’s Forêt et Soleil, for £373,250 ($589,735), compared with an estimate of £180,000/220,000. Said Landau: “the whole game plan has changed since the news broke of the private sale to Qatar of the $250 million Cezanne. It’s not just the Henry Moore market, it’s the whole market. Dealers will be rewriting their inventories tonight.”