NEW YORK—An abstract, four-and-a-half-inch-tall painted-metal sculpture by Alexander Calder, Shoe with Split Heel, 1946, was the highest-selling lot at Skinner’s Sept. 9 auction of American and European art, earning $148,125 with premium and outpacing the $30,000/50,000 estimate. A sizeable proportion of the higher-priced artworks that sold were either considerably above or below the estimates, which may reflect the difficulty that auctioneers have in finding appropriate values amid the art market’s continuing recovery.
Boston-based Skinner sold 493, or 81 percent, of the 604 lots on offer. Overall, the sale earned just under $2 million, falling within the $1.8 million/2.7 million presale estimate.
The Calder was an auctioneer’s “dream find,” according to Robin Starr, director of Skinner’s American and European art department. “The work had long been in a private collection and was in pristine condition,” she said, adding that the diminutive stabile appealed to numerous buyers.
Other top-selling lots included: Maurice Utrillo’s oil, Impasse trainee sous la neige à Montmartre, ca. 1904, which took $101,910 compared with an estimate of $100,000/150,000; Frederick John Mulhaupt’s Gloucester Gill Netters, ca. 1932, which sold for $65,175 compared with an estimate of $50,000/70,000; and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Seated Girl Reading, ca. 1855-60, sold for $65,175, compared with an estimate of $25,000/35,000.
Zao Wou-Ki’s untitled, 1954 mixed-media on paper sold for $53,325, against an estimate of $18,000/20,000, while József Rippl-Rónai’s undated Figures in a Field sold for $47,400, on an estimate of $50,000/70,000, and Leon Jean Basile Perrault’s undated Spring sold for $41,475, compared with an estimate of $40,000/60,000.
Other sales included: Maxfield Parrish’s Summer, 1908, which sold for $30,810, despite missing the estimate of $40,000/60,000; Hanson Duvall Puthuff’s oil, Mantle of Autumn, 1920, which sold for $29,625 compared with an estimate of $30,000/40,000; and Edward Moran’s undated Ships at Sunset, which fetched $27,255 compared with an estimate of $15,000/25,000.
Clearly on the upside for the auction house were a number of unexpectedly high prices for some modestly estimated artworks, such as $28,440 (estimate: $3,000/5,000) for Josef Albers’s Grüne Erde: Sketch for a Composition, ca. 1940, and $26,070 (estimate: $2,000/3,000) for an untitled abstract oil, 1962, by Polish painter Tadeus Kantor. The same price was paid for a 1963 abstract oil by the same artist, against a slightly higher estimate of $4,000/6,000.
And a 1947 ink and gouache on paper, Ceremonial Bronze by Morris Cole Graves, sold for $24,885 (estimate: $6,000/8,000).
Starr credited the auction house’s custom of estimating lots conservatively for the higher-than-expected prices. “The prices don’t seem intimidating to buyers, and they are willing to go up a few increments when they think they are getting a bargain,” she said.
On the other hand, there were some high-priced buy-ins, including Theodore Robinson’s undated Hansom Cabs, estimated at $120,000/180,000, and Thomas Butterworth’s undated painting, The Battle of Trafalgar, which was estimated at $50,000/70,000.