NEW YORK—Christie’s packed more than 80 lots into its evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on Nov. 3. In part, this was an effort to keep overall sale volume high, but it was also an indication that securing top-quality consignments has become easier as the resurgence of the art market continues.
The house realized a total of $231.4 million, compared with an overall estimate of $198 million/287 million, selling 67, or 80 percent, of the 84 lots on offer. By value the auction was 88 percent sold. New auction records were set for works by Henri Matisse and Juan Gris.
The highlight of the sale was Matisse’s seminal bronze relief Nu de dos, 4 état (Back IV), conceived ca. 1930 and cast in 1978, which sold for $48.8 million against a $25 million/35 million estimate. It was bought by dealer Larry Gagosian, who was seated in the room.
The bronze, one of four reliefs known as Backs I–IV, represents the artist’s “most monumental and ambitious sculptural undertaking and the longest-lived single project of his career,” according to Christie’s catalogue. The works are united by a single subject: a female nude leaning against a wall and viewed from behind. The work was one of just two examples that remained in private hands, and had been owned by the same European collector since 1987.
The second-highest-selling lot was Violin et guitare, 1913, a colorful Cubist composition by Gris, which sold to a private European collector for a record $28.6 million, clearing the estimate of $18 million/25 million.
Two other lots in the sale cleared the $10 million mark: Joan Miró’s oil on canvas L’Air, 1938, sold for $10.3 million; the hammer price of $9.1 million, however, was well short of the $12 million/18 million estimate, indicating that the consignor had lowered his or her reserve—the undisclosed minimum at which the work can be sold—before the sale. Femme de Venise V, conceived in 1956 and cast in 1958, an Alberto Giacometti sculpture depicting an elongated standing woman, sold within the estimate of $8 million/12 million for $10.3 million. The proceeds are to benefit Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, which had received the sculpture as a gift from former Mount Sinai chairman and trustee Frederick Klingenstein and his wife Sharon.
There were several dealers among the buyers of the top lots, including Robert Mnuchin, a partner in L&M Arts, New York, who acquired Egon Schiele’s Mann und Frau (Umarmung), 1917, a gouache and black crayon on paper of a nude, entwined couple. Mnuchin faced competition from the Gagosian Gallery before he won the work with a bid of $6.5 million. With premium, the final price was $7.3 million, against an estimate of $4 million/6 million. Mnuchin told ARTnewsletter he was bidding on behalf of a client.
The sale featured 10 works from the collection of Los Angeles entrepreneur and philanthropist Max Pavlevsky, which included works by such artists as Giorgio Morandi, Edvard Munch, Auguste Rodin, and Schiele, as well as five works by Fernand Léger. Nine of the Pavlevsky lots sold for a total of $23.5 million, and other works from the collection were to be sold in Christie’s contemporary sales.
Private dealer Daniella Luxembourg, of Daniella Luxembourg Art, London, acquired one of the Légers, Femme sur fond rouge, femme assise, 1927, a portrait of a woman on a bright red background, against competition from the Nahmad family of art dealers, for $6.3 million, within the estimate of $5 million/7 million.
Two other paintings by Léger from the Pavlesky collection figured among the sale’s top lots, including La Tasse de thé, 1921, which sold for $8.1 million, at the low end of the $8 million/12 million estimate, and Nature morte, 1927, which fetched $7.9 million from a dealer, surpassing its estimate of $3.5 million/6.5 million.
Christie’s listed unidentified U.S. dealers as the buyers of Pablo Picasso’s Tête d’homme, 1921, a pastel on paper that sold for $6.1 million on an estimate of $5 million/7 million, and of Gustave Caillebotte’s colorful boat scene La Seine à Argenteuil, 1882, which sold for $5.1 million on a $5 million/7 million estimate.
The Munch, the lithograph Madonna, 1902, would be an unusual inclusion in an evening sale had it not been a part of the Pavlevsky collection. It was estimated at $500,000/700,000 and sold for $1.17 million. Encountering hesitation from a Christie’s specialist on the phone with a client, auctioneer Christopher Burge said, “You have to bid to get it,” prompting laughter in the room, and then reminded the audience, “There are still lots of lots to go.”