NEW YORK—Rotating First Section, 1966, a bronze globe by Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro (b. 1926) was the top lot at Skinner’s Jan. 29 sale of American and European art in Boston, fetching $468,000, three times the $100,000/150,000 estimate. The sculpture was one of 30 pieces consigned to the auction house from the collection of the late Melvin B. Nessel, a longtime Boston resident and founder of the Fenton Shoe Corporation in Cambridge, who acquired the work in Italy.
“There was lots of competition for this piece” from European and U.S. bidders, Robin Starr, head of Skinner’s paintings and prints department, told ARTnewsletter. The auction realized a total of $2.6million, at the top end of the $1.8million/2.7million estimate. Of the 698 lots in the sale, 610, or 87 percent, found buyers.
The sale held a number of surprises, not the least of which was the number of works by major modern and contemporary artists, which tend to have a lesser role in Skinner auctions. Other top lots include Georgia O’Keeffe’s oil on canvas Alligator Pear in White Dish, 1921, which sold for $225,150 on an estimate of $100,000/150,000; Venezuelan artist Jesus Rafael Soto’s painted wood and steel sculpture Struttura, 1968, which fetched $100,725 against a $30,000/40,000 estimate; an untitled 1943 painting by Yves Tanguy, which sold for $82,950 against an estimate of $40,000/60,000; Victor Vasarely’s tempera on paper Ty-Neu, 1959, which sold for $53,325 on an estimate of $40,000/60,000, and Kenneth Noland’s oil painting Sailing, 1969, which sold for $48,585 on an estimate of $20,000/30,000.
A 1928 drawing of a nude woman by Henri Matisse sold for $47,400, within the estimate of $40,000/60,000, and Bernard Buffet’s oil painting Flowers, 1959, sold for $44,438 on an estimate of $30,000/50,000. Starr noted that there were approximately 800 registered bidders for this sale, “which is bigger than the usual number,” and added that almost 10 percent of them were first-time bidders at the auction house.
Buyers also showed enthusiasm for modestly-estimated lots. Saul Steinberg’s ink-and-colored-pencil drawing Art Lovers, 1963, brought in $22,515, well above the $3,000/5,000 estimate, and a bronze portrait bust of a woman by Daniel Chester French (1850–1931) sold for $16,590, leaving its $500/700 estimate far behind. Two other lots that sold surprisingly well are Harbor View with Mermaids, an oil by Ralph Eugene Cahoon Jr. (1910–82), which brought $20,145 against a $5,000/7,000 estimate, and The Marketplace, an oil on board by Mabel May Woodward (1877–1945), which sold for $10,665 against a $1,500/2,500 estimate.
Most of the highest-estimated lots found buyers, but some sold for prices that were quite a bit below their low estimates, suggesting that the reserve prices (for those lots that had them—“Many of the pieces in the sale had no formal reserves,” Starr said) were even more modest than the auctioneer’s usually conservative estimates. Cecilia Beaux’s charcoal on paper Francesca with a Kitten, 1897, fetched $4,740, less than half of the low estimate of $10,000/15,000, and Au Parc, an oil by French painter Jean-Pierre Cassigneul (b. 1935) sold for only $8,295 against an estimate of $15,000/25,000.