LONDON—Christie’s £10.2 million ($19 million) Surrealist section was the highest total achieved for a Surrealist sale in London. The biggest contribution by far came from one painting—a rare large-scale work by Yves Tanguy in which Christie’s had taken a financial interest. It made a record £4 million, or $7.5 million (estimate: £2/3 million), selling to private dealer Catherine Couturier, who was thought to be bidding for Swiss collector Esther Grether.
Another record was set when Femme couchée, a rare sculpture by Oscar Dominguez, realized £192,800, or $361,000 (estimate: £30/50,000), from a U.S. trade buyer on the phone.
Joan Miró paintings seemed solid enough. Among the top lots was L’étoile—peinture, 1927, which fell to a Japanese collector just within estimate for £1.69 million ($3.1 million), though the price was effectively less than the $2.7 million it had fetched back in 1989. Another work, Peinture, 1937, painted on Celotex, was sold nearer the high estimate for £736,000 ($1.4 million) to Marlborough Fine Art (estimate: £500/700,000).
Results for René Magritte were strong too, with four paintings among the top 10 sellers. Double-estimate prices were paid for Le baiser, 1957 (£590,400, or $1.1 million), and for Shéhérezade, 1947-48, which fetched $254,400 (estimate: £100/150,000). But results were mixed as well. The highest-estimated Magritte, an earlier and arguably more interesting four-part canvas, Profondeurs de la terre, 1930 (estimate: £500/700,000), found no takers.
With ten fewer lots than were offered at Christie’s, Sotheby’s Surrealist section trailed behind with £7.6 million ($14.1 million). Its major casualty was the cover lot, Paul Delvaux’s La naissance de Vénus, 1947, which was bought in (estimate: £1.8/2.5 million). Max Ernst also had a rough ride when three out of four works went unsold. All were relatively early works from the 1920s; most disappointing was the failure to sell of the Freudian Scène d’érotisme sévère, 1927 (estimate: £600/900,000).
However, Magritte came to the rescue, and all nine of his paintings offered were sold, contributing £3.6 million ($6.7 million) to the total (or nearly half the proceeds). As at Christie’s, later works fared better than the early ones, probably because of their appeal to a much wider audience. Prices for the paintings ranged from £209,600 (estimate: £200/300,000) for the historically fascinating but less commercial early word painting Le Corps Bleu, 1928, to £1.2 million (estimate: £900,000/1.2 million) for the more instantly recognizable Le monde visible, 1962.