LONDON—On Feb. 5 Sotheby’s offered a 76-lot Impressionist and modern evening sale that proved to be more tightly edited than at Christie’s a day earlier, and reaped the dividends. The £116.7 million ($230.5 million) auction was its highest ever in Europe—just exceeding the presale high estimate of £112 million (excluding commissions), with only nine lots unsold.
In almost every department, the Sotheby’s auction held the edge: Among Impressionist paintings was a small-scale version of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s La loge, or L’avant-scène, 1874, in the collection of London’s Courtauld Gallery. Sold in 1989 at the height of the Impressionist boom for $12.1 million, it was later acquired privately by hotel and casino mogul Stephen A. Wynn in 1998 for just $5 million before passing through Acquavella Galleries in 2002 to the vendor at this sale, where it doubled estimates to fetch £7.4 million, or $14.6 million (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million). The anonymous phone buyer was underbid by London dealer Timothy Taylor.
Also among the top-selling pictures was an Edgar Degas pastel on paper, Danseuse rajustant sa sandale, circa 1896, which flew above its £3 million high estimate to £4.9 million, or $9.8 million. (The pastel had been sold back in 1986 for $726,000.)
Attracting Russian interest was Paul Signac’s Terrasse de Meudon, 1899, which fetched £3.2 million, or $6.2 million (estimate: £2/3 million) from a phone bid introduced by Sotheby’s Russian-speaking specialist Alina Davey—who also acquired works by Gustav Klimt, René Magritte, Emil Nolde and Camille Pissarro, using the same paddle number.
Fewer works by Pablo Picasso were on offer than was the case at Christie’s, but Sotheby’s had the best example in a 1938 portrait of Picasso’s mistress Dora Maar, Tête de femme (La lectrice), which was being sold by the heirs of the late dealer/scholar Heinz Berggruen (1914-2007).
The provenance and altogether more attractive composition ensured a higher price—£7.4 million, or $14.6 million (estimate: £6.5/8.5 million)—than Picasso’s painting of Maar at Christie’s a day earlier. Interestingly, both portraits were bought by the same unidentified private collector in the room.
Russians Grab Top German Expressionist Works
As at Christie’s, German Expressionist paintings were in hot demand. Sotheby’s, however had the upper hand, and led its sale with 28 works by German and Austrian, mostly Expressionist, artists. Twenty-five sold for £39.6 million ($78.3 million) —the highest total for such a grouping in a single sale—and set a mood of confidence for the remainder of the evening.
The top works in this section were all thought to have been acquired by Russian buyers. Franz Marc’s Grazing Horses III, 1910, sold for a record £12.3 million, or $24.4 million (estimate: £6/8 million), to a European-based collector bidding through Sotheby’s Moscow director Mikhail Kamensky.
Alexej von Jawlensky’s Schokko with Wide-brimmed Hat, ca. 1910, fell to another European- based collector, bidding through Caroline Lang of Sotheby’s Geneva for a record £9.4 million, or $18.6 million (estimate: £6.5/8.5 million). The same painting had set a record back in 2003 when it earned £4.9 million or $8.3 million.
Other works by German Expressionist artists to break records were Max Pechstein’s Circus with Dromedaries, ca. 1920 (£1.9 million, or $3.8 million); and watercolors by George Grosz (£311,700, or $617,200) and Nolde (£446,100, or $881,000).
A record £916,500 ($1.8 million) was also paid for a Fauvist painting, Le 14 Juillet, 1906, by Albert Marquet.
Of note too were the £5.6 million, or $11.1 million (estimate: £2/3 million) paid by a U.S. collector for Alberto Giacometti’s Buste, 1947, the second-highest price for a Giacometti painting on record; and the above-estimate prices paid by Gilbert Lloyd of Marlborough Gallery for two Henri Matisse charcoal drawings.
One, Nu assis, 1942, took £490,900, or $971,980 (estimate: £280,000/350,000); the other, Étude pour nu rose, sold for £2.9 million, or $5.7 million (estimate: £900,000/1.2 million). This drawing had previously brought $1.7 million in 2001, and so posted a healthy gain.
Not so Odilon Redon’s Vase au guerrier Japonais, which had made a record $3.8 million (£2.15 million) in 2004, selling to a U.S. collector. This time around it barely held its value, going for £2.04 million ($4 million).
Among the other trade buyers in the room was London dealer Peter Osborne, who acquired Signac’s La Dogana (Venise), for £804,500, or $1.6 million (estimate: £350,000/500,000). He also purchased Magritte’s Landscape with Rider for £692,500, or $1.4 million (estimate: £400,000/600,000).
Nahmads Acquire Two Picassos
The Nahmad family of art dealers bought two Picassos—the neoclassical Baigneur et baigneuses, 1920-21, for £2.9 million, or $5.7 million (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million); and the late Le peintre, 1967, for £1 million, or $1.98 million (estimate: £900,000/1.2 million).
Spanish dealer Fernando Mignoni won Juan Gris’ Pierrot aux Mains Jointes, 1924, for £180,500, or $357,390 (estimate: £180,00/250,000). Taylor bought Matisse’s La femme en rose, 1942, for £1.6 million, or $3.2 million (estimate: £1.5/2 million).
And German dealer Jorg Bertz acquired Pechstein’s Garden, 1910, for £748,500, or $1.5 million (estimate: £500,000/700,000).
As at Christie’s, guarantees played a small part, with just seven lots having a combined low estimate of £20.6 million ($40.8 million)—all selling for a total of £27.4 million ($54.2 million), including commission.
The buyer breakdown at Sotheby’s also reflected minimal U.S. participation, with American buyers accounting for just 13% of lots. Europe and the U.K. accounted for 67%; Russia, a significant 15%; and Asia, 4%. Sotheby’s said 15% of the buyers were new, mostly from Europe and Russia.