LONDON—Sotheby’s £94.9 million ($186.5 million) auction of Impressionist and modern arton Feb. 5 was its highest ever in London for an evening sale in that category, just beating out the £88.8 million ($163.7 million) posted last summer (ANL, 7/5/06, pp. 1-2). The total fell comfortably within the presale estimate of £79/111 million; but at the same time, the amount of lots, 98, far outnumbered the 56 offered in June.
Post-sale the most revealing statistics to emerge were that buying from the United Kingdom and Russia combined had stayed steady at 25%, compared to last year—but that European buyers had captured 47% of lots compared to 23% in June, while the American percentage had dropped to 21% from 44% in June.
The strength of the market had elicited many sales from the U.S. including consignments from the Paul R. and Mary Haas collection, and the estates of Revlon cofounder Charles Lachman (1897-1978) and New York philanthropist Nell Singer.
But the weakness of the dollar was thought to have deterred Americans from competing at the same levels of previous years. Though the sale was deemed a runaway success as the largest ever staged in Europe, only 26 of the 98 lots sold above their estimates, seven of them by multiples of two or more. A total of 35 sold within estimate, 14 below. Although broader and more global than before, this is still quite a measured and selective market that goes wild only for the choicest works of art.
The sale kicked off with 23 lots of German and Austrian art, of which 18 were sold. The 1909 painting Weilhem-Marienplatz, by Wassily Kandinsky, led the section with £2.48 million, or $4.9 million (estimate: £1.5/2 million). Next came a self-portrait by Ludwig Meidner, Mein Nachtgesicht, 1913, which sold for £1.5 million, or $2.95 million (estimate: £600,000/800,000) to Andrea Crane, a private New York dealer and former Christie’s specialist. Crane told ARTnewsletter she acquired the work on behalf of an American collector. The price appeared strong; yet the painting had gone unsold six years earlier with a £2 million estimate.
The star of this section of the sale was a restituted sculpture, Torso der Schreitenden (conceived in1914, cast in the 1920s), by Wilhelm Lehmbruck, which was pursued by numerous bidders before falling to private New York dealers, and former Christie’s specialists, Christopher Eykyn and Nicholas Maclean (Eykyn Maclean) for a record £1.14 million, or $2.2 million (estimate: £250,000/350,000).
Perhaps the best performance came from Alexej von Jawlensky, with four paintings among the top ten, three of them selling over-estimate. Among the buyers of the Jawlensky works was former Sotheby’s Austrian chief Agnes Husslein, who bought a later Abstract Head, 1931, for £524,000 ($1.03 million), well above the £400,000 high estimate.
Husslein, bidding against Galerie Thomas, Munich, also acquired a picture by Max Liebermann, View in the Wannsee Gardens, 1918, for £972,000 ($1.9 million), above the high estimate of £950,000. However, two works on paper by Egon Schiele failed to sell, including one estimated at an optimistic £2.25/3.25 million.
Leading the Impressionist and modern section was a painting by Chaïm Soutine, L’homme au foulard rouge, circa1921, which had been on the market twice during the 1990s, setting an artist’s record each time: Bought in 1990 by French actor Alain Delon for £1.25 million ($2.2 million), the work was sold in 1997 to U.S. collector Mrs. Wendell Cherry for £1.5 million ($2.5 million).
Recently, Russian collectors have pushed the Russian-born Soutine’s prices up to more than £7 million. Estimated at £3.5/5 million, L’homme au foulard rouge, sent for sale by Mrs. Cherry, was pursued by a Russian buyer, bidding through an agent in the room. In the end it fell, for a new artist’s record of £8.76 million ($17.2 million), to a Spanish bidder in the room, identified by trade sources as Maria de Madariaga.
Much of the sale’s success hinged on the performance of the largest representation of 19th-century Impressionist and post-Impressionist works seen at a London sale for some time. Some observers had written the Impressionist market off only two years ago as lacking both supply and demand. But recent sales in London and New York have shown there is new market energy in terms of trade and private buying, especially from Russia and Asia, Sotheby’s said.
The house guaranteed several Impressionist works from the Haas collection and the Lachman estate. Though guarantees were covered, however, the outcome was mixed. Among the highest-estimated lots, an oil on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Les Deux Soeurs, 1989, from the Lachman estate, just scraped past the estimate to sell for £6.8 million ($13.5 million); a pastel on paper by Edgar Degas, Trois danseuses jupes violettes, 1896, was knocked down below estimate to £4.16 million ($8.2 million); and an oil by Paul Gauguin, Ferme en Bretagne II, 1894, which had fetched $6.8 million in 1989, found no takers (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million). Again, Chrysanthèmes, 1878, by Claude Monet, which had realized £2.2 million in 1999, made only £2.26 million (estimate: £2/3 million).
That said, most of the 20 or so Impressionist- period paintings found buyers. A river landscape from the Haas collection, Le Loing à Moret en été, 1891, by Alfred Sisley, sold over-estimate for a record £2.9 million, or $5.7 million (estimate: £1.8/2.5 million); and Monet’s Maison du jardiniere, 1884, won £4 million ($7.9 million) from an Asian buyer, comfortably above its £3.5 million high estimate.
Other buyers of Impressionist works: London dealer Rory Howard, who took Le verger du manoir d’Ango, 1899, by Camille Pissarro, for £1.7 million, or $3.3 million (estimate: £1.5/2 million); and Swiss dealer Doris Ammann, who bought Renoir’s Baigneuse assise, 1913, for £1.14 million, or $2.2 million (estimate: £1.2/1.8 million).
The market was particularly vibrant for strongly colored Fauvist works by Maurice de Vlaminck and Raoul Dufy, whose La foire aux oignons, 1907, made a record £4 million, or $7.9 million (estimate: £1.2/1.8 million); and for paintings by Edvard Munch that doubled and trebled estimates.
The other notable strength was in small but rare modernist sculpture. Apart from the Lehmbruck piece, the sculpture Linear Construction in Space, No. 3, with Red, 1957,by Naum Gabo, in stainless steel and aluminum on a wood base, found a Russian buyer for a record £1.25 million or $2.5 million (estimate: £500,000/700,000); and a bronze by Jacques Lipchitz, Sailor with Guitar, 1914, from an edition of seven, sold for a record £1.05 million ($2 million), surpassing its £600,000 high estimate.
The weakest area of the sale was devoted to Surrealist art; only 13 of the 21 lots offered were sold. Among the casualties were the highest-estimated lots: an oil by René Magritte, L’okapi, 1958 (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million); and a picture by Paul Delvaux, Les Courtisanes (or Le Jardin des Courtisanes), 1941 (estimate: £1/1.5 million).