LONDON—The market felt several degrees cooler at Sotheby’s shorter and less-than-jam packed Impressionist and modern art sale on Feb. 8. Although a healthy 77 percent of the 53 lots offered were sold, three of the four highest-estimated lots were unsold, and the £78.9 million ($125.5 million) total barely scraped the lower end of the presale £77.3 million/111.2 million estimate.
After the record Joan Miró price at Christie’s the night before, Sotheby’s had high hopes for their early Miró, Peinture, 1933, which carried the top estimate of the sale at £7 million/9 million. But it only received one bid at £6 million from the Nahmad family of art dealers, which was not enough to sell. The Nahmads had previously owned the painting, having bought it at Sotheby’s New York in May 1996 for $1.3 million before selling it to the present consignor.
Another big-ticket painting looking to ride the Surrealist wave was Salvador Dalí’s small Oasis, 1946, which had no bids to meet the £4 million/6 million estimate. Also not quite top drawer, observers said, was Gustav Klimt’s rediscovered Lakeshore with Birches, 1901, a quiet landscape divergent from his richer and more commercial symbolist works. Estimated at £6 million/8 million, there were no bids at the sale, though, before it had ended, Sotheby’s announced that it had accepted an offer which amounted to £5.6 million ($8.9 million) with commission.
Impressionist paintings got the sale off to a strong start with Claude Monet’s snow scene L’Entrée de Giverny en hiver, 1885, fetching the top price of the sale at £8.2 million ($13.1 million), compared with an estimate of £4.5 million/6.5 million. Top among the Post-Impressionists was Eduoard Vuillard’s Les Couturières, 1890, which had sold at Christie’s London in February 2009 for £5.1 million ($7.4 million). This time around it fetched a disappointing £3.4 million ($5.4 million) on an estimate of £3 million/5 million. More disappointing was Paul Signac’s Pont des Arts, 1925. Bought by the Asian trade at Christie’s London in February 2008 for £3 million ($5.85 million), the oil on canvas failed to sell this time with a £2.8 million/3.5 million estimate.
The only significant Fauvist work was George Braque’s L’Oliveraie, 1907, which sold over the £2 million/3 million estimate for £5.1 million ($8 million), while Braque’s Post-Cubist Mandoline, Fruits, Pichet, 1927, fetched a strong £1.9 million ($3 million), from a phone bidder against London dealer Simon Theobald, on an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million.
In what had so far been an unusually quiet week for Pablo Picasso (only one of three relatively minor works sold at Christie’s), Verre et Compotier, 1922, last sold at Christie’s London in June 2001 for £188,550 ($263,970), sold to a phone bidder against London art adviser Tania Buckrell Pos for £481,250 ($765,190), compared with an estimate of £250,000/350,000.
German Expressionist works that were fresh to the market performed well. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Das Boskett: Albertplatz in Dresden, 1911, had last been on the market at Galerie Kornfeld in Berne in June 1991 when it sold for CHF3 million ($4.5 million). It now sold to a private European collector for £7.3 million ($11.6 million).
Otto Dix’s rare early collage, The Electric Tram, 1919, attracted several bidders, including London dealer Richard Nagy before it sold for £2.9 million ($4.7 million) on an estimate of £700,000/1 million. Alexej Jawlensky’s Girl with Red Ribbon, 1911, however, was more familiar fare. Having sold at Christie’s in February 2008 for £2.9 million ($5.7 million), it was sold again at Christie’s in February 2009 for £1.9 million ($2.8 million). The buyer now made a quick profit selling to a private European collector on a single bid for £3.1 million ($4.9 million), against an estimate of £3 million/5 million.
The Surrealist section was led by Giorgio de Chirico’s Ettore e Andromaca, 1925–30, which made a tidy profit for the seller, who bought it at Christie’s New York in November 2009 for $2.8 million and now sold it for £2.8 million ($4.5 million) on an estimate of £2.8 million/4 million. One anonymous bidder in the room snapped up four works by Max Ernst, René Magritte and Paul Delvaux, outbidding London dealer Angela Neville to buy Delvaux’s Les Adieux, 1964, for £1.5 million ($2.4 million), compared with an estimate of £700,000/900,000.
Other dealers in the Surrealist market included Daniel Malingue from Paris who bought Dalí’s drawing, Bureaucrate et Machine à Coudre, 1933, for £713,250 ($1.1 million), compared with an estimate of £400,000/600,000, and Nagy who bought an early painting by Ernst, Horse and Cows, ca. 1919 (though dated 1913 on the canvas much later by the artist). It sold within estimate for £361,250 ($574,390).
Sellers hoping to ride the booming Ernst market, evident in New York’s November sales (ANL, 11/8/11), included the Nahmad family, which consigned the artist’s 33 Fillettes Partant pour la Chasse au Papillon Blanc, 1957. Acquired at Sotheby’s London in June 2000 for £179,000 ($269,400), the oil on canvas now sold for £1.1 million ($1.8 million).
Continuing the previous evening’s Henry Moore sale run, four sculptures by the artist were sold. The earliest was a 1933–34 marble carving, Figure, which had been unsold at Christie’s New York in November 2008 with a $1.8 million/2.5 million estimate. This time it was sold to London dealer Stephen Ongpin, for £1.5 million ($2.3 million) on an estimate of £900,000/1.4 million.
Moore’s small Seated Woman in a Chair, 1956, was snapped up by Toronto dealer Robert Landau for £277,250 ($440,830), compared with an estimate of £200,000/300,000, while his five-foot-tall Seated Woman: Thin Neck, 1961, was bought by Stefan Ratibor of the Gagosian Gallery for £601,250 ($1 million) on an estimate of £550,000/750,000. Ratibor also underbid the top Moore of the sale, the eight-foot-long Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2: Bridge Prop, 1963, which sold to a private European collector for £3.3 million ($5.2 million), compared with an estimate of £1.5 million/2.5 million.
Outgunned in every respect by Christie’s this time, Sotheby’s sale had far less fresh-to-the-market private collections on offer, but could take comfort from a total that was a shade higher than last February’s £68.8 million ($111 million) evening sale.