LONDON—Christie’s opened its June 21 Impressionist and modern art evening sale with 40 lots from the estate of Swiss art dealer Ernst Beyeler, who died in 2010. Estimated at £46 million/67 million, 39 lots sold for £44.7 million ($72.5 million). The only casualty was an unusually large, late water lily painting, Nympheas, ca.1914-1917, by Claude Monet, that was estimated at £17 million/24 million. The painting was stamped rather than signed and considered unfinished, or at least unresolved, by observers and as such overpriced. After the sale, Sam Keller, the director of the Fondation Beyeler, said he was happy that the painting would now become part of the foundation’s collection. It had previously been exhibited by Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2010, though it is not known whether it had been for sale there and if so at what price.
The sale had set off at an electric pace when the 17th-century Spanish wooden table that was Beyeler’s desk, valued by Christie’s furniture department at £8,000/10,000, sold to a phone bidder for £289,250 ($468,585). The reverence and esteem in which he was held was further emphasised when a Diego Giacometti designed glass-topped table, on which Beyeler kept his fax machine, sold for £646,000 ($1 million) on a £50,000/70,000 estimate.
When it came to the art, the market was generally more discriminating knowing that Beyeler’s best works were in his foundation. An Alberto Giacometti drawing of his biographer, James Lord, was knocked down to dealer Thomas Gibson for a £180,000 ($291,002) hammer, or £217,250 ($351,224) with commission, falling below the £200,000/300,000 estimate. In November 1988, Beyeler bought a Pablo Picasso drawing, Nature Morte aux cartes-a jeu et peches, 1914, from the collection of Douglas Cooper at Christie’s, London, for a huge £850,000 ($1.5 million), possibly because of Cooper’s close association with Picasso. It barely recovered that amount, selling for £847,650 ($1.4 million) against an estimate of £700,000/1 million—a loss in real terms, and proof that even great art dealers get carried away sometimes. Meanwhile, Lieber Ernst, a drawing on card dedicated to Beyeler by Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, sold for an outstanding £67,250 ($108,722), compared with an estimate of £5,000/7,000, to set a record for a work on paper by the artist.
With the failure of the Monet, the two top-lot spaces in the Beyeler sale were left to Paul Gauguin’s Le Vallon, 1892, which sold for £6.4 million ($10.4 million), against an estimate of £5.5 million/8.5 million, to Lionel Pissarro of privatedealers Giraud, Pissarro, Ségalot, and Picasso’s painting of Francoise Gilot, Buste de Francoise, 1946, which sold to dealer William Acquavella for £10.7 million ($17.3 million) against an estimate of £7 million/10 million.
Other buyers at the sale were Fernando Mignoni, director of the Galerie Elvira Gonzalez, Madrid, who bought Alexander Calder’s mobile, Blanc et Noir, 1962, for £1.1 million ($1.8 million) on an estimate of £800,000/1.1 million, and dealer, Daniella Luxembourg, who bought Paul Klee’s Gelande des Ubermutes, 1937, for £421,250 ($681,026), on an estimate of £200,000/300,000, against bidding from Berlin dealer Michael Haas.
Picasso Portraits Shine at Mixed Owner Auction
The highest prices at Christie’s mixed-owner sale, which followed the Beyeler sale on June 21, were for paintings by Pablo Picasso of his lovers. A small painting of Marie-Therese Walther, Jeune Fille Endormie, 1935, sent for sale from the University of Sydney, sold for £13.5 million ($21.9 million) on an estimate of £9 million/12 million to London dealer Alan Hobart, director of the Pyms Gallery, bidding for a client. Also, a painting of Dora Maar, Femme Assise au robe bleue, 1939, which had coincidentally passed through Beyeler’s hands in the 1960s, soared above estimates to sell to the Geneva-based collector, Dimitri Mavromatis, for £18 million ($29 million) compared with an estimate of £4 million/8 million. The estimate, Christie’s experts explained, was low because it was based on a slightly outdated valuation of the previous owner’s estate.
Also once part of Beyeler’s stock was Tanzern, 1932, a painting in lines and dots of a dancing woman by Klee which sold for a record £4.2 million ($6.8 million), compared with an estimate of £2 million/3 million, though whether the Beyeler provenance added to the appeal of either painting is hard to gauge. The market for modern classics was extremely strong and was confirmed in the same sale by Im Bazar, a small but rare North African watercolour from 1914 by the German expressionist August Macke, which sold for a record £4 million ($6.5 million), against an estimate of £600,000/800,000, to an anonymous phone bidder against Luxembourg,who was in the room.
The mixed-owner sale added another £80 million ($129 million) to Christie’s evening sale, bringing the combined total with the Beyeler lots to £140 million ($227 million), on an estimate of £114.7 million/164 million, the third highest for an Impressionist and modern sale at Christie’s London. In all, 80 or 87 percent of lots were sold:54 percent to European buyers, which includes Russia and the CIS, 42 percent to the US (unusually high) and 4 percent to Asia.
A significant proportion of the unsold lots had been bought at auction within the last four years. These included Camille Pissarro’s Paysanne Bechant, 1882, bought at Sotheby’s New York in November 2007 for £2.6 million ($5.4 million) and now estimated at £1.8 million/2.5 million. However, there were other works that saw a price increase over a similar period. Picasso’s decorative still life, Le pot de fleurs sur fond noir, 1932, bought at Sotheby’s London in June 2007 for £748,000 ($1.5 million), sold for £2.3 million ($3.7 million) on an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million.
Surrealism was thin on the ground. But all the works offered by Max Ernst and Rene Magritte exceeded estimates, including Ernst’s La Chute de l’Ange, 1923, which sold for a record £2.7 million ($4.4 million) against an estimate of £900,000/1.4 million.