PARIS—A selective approach and consignments from private collections helped Sotheby’s and Christie’s post respectable results for their auctions of Impressionist and modern art in Paris at the beginning of December, despite scant buying from the trade.
The highest individual price of the sales came at Sotheby’s on Dec. 3, when a U.S. collector paid €4.99million ($6.3million) for Au divan japonais, circa 1887–88, a small gouache and Conté crayon drawing by Georges Seurat, which had not been seen in public since it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1941. The price was four times the previous record for a Seurat drawing and five times the estimate of €750,000/1million.
Apart from its sudden reappearance on the market—Sotheby’s provided no details about the work’s provenance beyond saying it had been acquired by the father of its anonymous consignor in the 1960s—the drawing’s appeal also derived from its inclusion in the 1888 Salon des Indépendants and its typically Belle Epoque café-concert subject matter.
The €12.76million ($16.1million) auction total was Sotheby’s highest to date for an Impressionist and modern sale in Paris, and was achieved with just 94 lots—36 of which were unsold, notably Salvador Dalí’s Le Boléro, 1946 (estimate: €800,000/1.2million), and Paul Delvaux’s Les Courtisanes ou Hommage à Vénus, 1944 (estimate: €500,000/700,000).
The auction, attended by a packed saleroom of 170, was a healthier 83 percent sold by value, with several works selling well past estimate, thanks in part to important provenance. The large Paysage Cubiste, 1914, by Albert Gleizes (estimate: €300,000/500,000), which had been in the same European collection since the 1920s, set a record for a work by the artist when it sold for €900,750 ($1.1million).
Two works from the former Ambroise Vollard Collection sold well over their estimates: a Fauve watercolor by André Derain, La Danse Champêtre, 1906, sold for €246,750 ($314,200) on an estimate of €120,000/150,000, and L’Aigle et l’Escarbot, a Marc Chagall gouache made as an illustration for La Fontaine’s Fables, sold for €210,750 ($268,341) on an estimate of €60,000/80,000. Three works by Zoran Music—two in acrylic, one in oils—also sold well above estimate. The highest-selling of these was the oil Cavallino, 1951, which sold for €132,750 ($169,000) on an estimate of €50,000/70,000.
Among other top lots, a Pablo Picasso still life, Tête de morte et livre, 1946, sold for €1.1million ($1.4million), just within its estimate of €1million/1.5million. Francis Picabia’s oil painting Monstre, 1946, which had been acquired by the consignor from the collection of Andy Warhol, brought €456,750 ($581,600), toward the high end of the €300,000/500,000 estimate. Amedeo Modigliani’s Femme nue de face, 1911–12, brought €318,750 ($405,000) on an estimate of €250,000/350,000. It was one of eight Modigliani drawings in the sale that were once owned by the artist’s earliest patron, Dr. Paul Alexandre. Four of these found buyers.
The centerpiece of Christie’s two-session sale on December 1–2 was the collection of the famous French fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin (1867–1946). The 31-lot ensemble, devoted mainly to works depicting female subjects, contributed €10.5million ($13.6million) to the overall sale total of €15.74 million ($19.9million). The 157-lot auction was 75 percent sold by lot and 74 percent sold by value. Those figures are, however, slightly misleading because two of the star lots from the Lanvin Collection—an Auguste Renoir portrait of Camille Monet (estimate: €2.5million/3.5million) and an Edgar Degas pastel, Femme au Chapeau, 1889 (estimate: €800,000/1.2million)—went unsold in the room and were offloaded after the sale for prices short of estimate: the Renoir for €2.1million ($2.7million), and the Degas for €781,000 ($1million). Without these post-auction sales, the Lanvin Collection total was €7.7 million ($9.9 million).
The Lanvin Collection accounted for nine of the sale’s top ten lots, including the two post-auction sales, with all nine works being sold to private collectors from Asia, Europe and the Americas. European buyers accounted for around 70 percent of sales, while buyers from North and South America made up 28 percent. Observers said that the appeal of many of the pieces in the collection lay more in freshness to the market and glamorous provenance than in particular artistic merit.
Only one work among the highest lots exceeded its estimate: a Renoir painting, Jeune fille de profile, sold for €697,000 ($882,054) on an estimate of €250,000/350,000. On the other hand, five of the top ten lots sold below their published estimates, suggesting that reserves had been adjusted after the catalogue was printed in order to take the tough economic circumstances into account.