NEW YORK—At Christie’s Nov. 5 evening sale of two private collections, titled “The Modern Age,” the crowd was sparse, and the mood grim. With buyers already wary in the face of the economic crisis, the addition of a third evening sale to the lineup of Impressionist and modern art auctions met with far less enthusiasm than usually greets sales of private collections and estates. The $47 million total was less than half the $104 million low estimate. Of the 58 lots, 41, or 71 percent, were sold. However, the ten highest lots each yielded prices well in excess of $1 million.
The sale, for which Christie’s issued a separate set of hardcover catalogues, featured property from two New York collections: the Alex Hillman Family Foundation and the collection of Alice Lawrence, widow of Manhattan real estate developer Sylvan Lawrence. The Lawrence collection was guaranteed.
The biggest casualty of the evening was a dark Mark Rothko canvas from the Lawrence collection, No. 43 (MAUVE), 1960. Bidding opened at $10 million, but the work was bought in without a single bid (estimate: $20 million/30 million).
Among the few works that sparked any excitement or competition was a 1962 portrait of Robert Smithson by Alice Neel (1900–84). The painting drew three bidders and eventually sold for a hammer price of $580,000 to a phone buyer (estimate: $300,000/400,000). The $698,500 price with premium set a new record for the artist.
The highest price of the evening was $6.1 million, paid for Giorgio de Chirico’s oil painting Composition Métaphysique, 1914 (estimate: $6 million/8 million), followed by $4.4 million for Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s Portrait de Henri Nocq, 1897 (estimate: $6 million/9 million).
Results were markedly different the following day, when 53 lower-priced works from the Lawrence collection were offered in a dedicated day sale that realized $3.6 million. The auction was 100 percent sold, both by lot and by value.