GENEVA—The market for Swiss art is a narrow but lively one, dominated in Switzerland by the local branches of Christie’s and Sotheby’s in Zurich. Christie’s recent Swiss art sale on the evening of March 19 produced a record total of $19.7 million for 140 works sold. The auction was 95 percent sold by value, 80 percent by lot.
While this figure would equate with a rather high average price of $140,000 per lot, the fact is that about two-thirds of the total, or $13.6 million, was generated by the ten priciest lots—with half that amount fetched by the top three lots alone.
Falls Short of Expectations
The sale was led, as expected, by Ferdinand Hodler’s landscape The Lake of Brienz Seen from Breitlauenen. The auction house and various art experts had expected the work to rise well beyond the estimate of $2/2.86 million and were surprised when it fetched a rather disappointing $2.98 million, offered by an anonymous Swiss phone bidder. Dirk Boll, president of Christie’s Zurich, observed that collectors seem to prefer Hodler’s mountain scenes to his less dramatic landscapes.
Another Swiss collector set an artist’s record for Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933), giving $2.08 million for the artist’s Winter Landscape at Maloja in the Engadine Mountains, circa 1917/1918 (estimate: $743,000/1.2 million). The same buyer acquired, for $1.76 million (estimate: $662,000/991,000), the summer landscape Valle fiorita (Blossoming Meadow), which Giovanni Giacometti—the father of the more internationally known artists and designers Alberto and Diego Giacometti—began in 1912 but did not complete until 1924.
Giacometti’s earlier and more intimate village landscape Viottola, 1911, depicting a narrow street in a mountain village, fetched $298,000 ($124,000/165,000) from Markus Schoeb, a former Swiss art expert at Christie’s and now director of Zurich’s Galerie Widmer, who was bidding on behalf of Dallas collectors Richard and Nona Barrett.
At the other end of the price range was Swiss comedian Patrick Frey, cofounder of Switzerland’s leading contemporary art publication Parkett, who sat through the three-hour sale to buy, for $3,173, the rather Surrealist painting Dangerous Game, 1962, by Walter Grab (estimate: $2,100/2,900).
Hans-Peter Keller, head of the Swiss art department, said the Christie’s sale “realized the highest total for any Swiss art sale ever.” The entire auction, he noted, “saw very strong Swiss and international bidding, resulting in nine works selling above Sfr. 1 million [$826,000].”
CHRISTIAN VON FABER-CASTELL