NEW YORK—Sotheby’s kicked off the spring season with an evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on May 8 that realized $278.6 million, the second-best total in the house’s history (the highest was $286.2 million, in 1990). Fueled by international bidding, the auction was more than 90 percent sold by lot and by value, and 36 works brought more than $1 million each. Combined with day sales on May 9, Sotheby’s Impressionist total was $337.2 million.
Sotheby’s worldwide chairman of Impressionist and modern art David Norman said the house was “ecstatic” about the results. And noting a trend that accelerated as the two-week series of auctions progressed, Sotheby’s vice president August O. Uribe commented, “We saw an increased level of participation from an ever-expanding non-American client base. The current exchange rate bolstered the confidence of bidders who are accustomed to spending the euro and the British pound.” Nonetheless, Uribe said, U.S. buyers maintained a strong presence and were seen bidding and buying at every price point.
The highest price of the sale was the $25.5 million given for a 1902-06 watercolor by Paul Cézanne, Nature morte au melon vert (estimate: $14/18 million); it fell to an anonymous phone bidder after competitive bidding, including offers from dealer Larry Gagosian that ranged up to $22 million. The picture was offered from the private collection of prominent Asian art dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, who had purchased it for $4.3 million in 1989.
The buyer of the $25.5 million Cézanne also acquired Velocità d’automobile + luci, a 1913 oil on gold paper by Giacomo Balla that had been consigned by the Neumann Family Collection, assembled by Chicago businessman Morton G. Neumann. It sold for $3.96 million (estimate: $3.5/4.5 million). The same phone bidder also acquired Pablo Picasso’s 1965 oil-on-canvas Femme nue assise for $8.1 million (estimate: $8/10 million); and Paul Gauguin’s oil Cavalier devant la case, painted in the Marquesas Islands in 1902, for $4.85 million (estimate: $4/6 million). In all, the unknown buyer spent a total of $42.11 million.
Private dealer Daniella Luxembourg acquired other Cézanne watercolors from the Eskenazi collection, including: Rochers près des grottes au-dessus de château noir (Rochers à bibémus), 1895-1900, which fell for $2.28 million (estimate: $2/3 million); and the two-sided watercolor La montagne Sainte-Victoire (recto); Fruits et feuillage (verso), circa 1900-02 and circa 1885, respectively, for $1.27 million (estimate: $1.2/1.6 million).
A unique polychrome wood sculpture depicting a figure on a horse, by Marino Marini, L’idea del cavaliere, 1956, fell to New York dealer Larry Gagosian for a record $7 million (estimate: $6/8 million), more than doubling the artist’s previous record of just under $3 million. Another sculpture that fared well was a circa 1948-49 (cast 1950) painted bronze by Alberto Giacometti, Homme traversant une place par un matin de soleil (estimate: $4/6 million), which sold for $7.4 million.
A record was set for Lyonel Feininger when Jesuiten III (Jesuits III), a colorful 1915 Expressionist oil, took $23.28 million (estimate: $7/9 million) from a buyer Sotheby’s characterizes as “an international private collector.”
Among other top prices scored in the sale: A 1905 Picasso oil, Tête d’arlequin, fetched $15.2 million (estimate: $14/18 million) from a phone bidder, while his 1932 oil Les amants brought $14.6 million (estimate: $10/15 million).
There was heated competition for Fernand Léger’s oil Les usines, 1918, among bidders the likes of New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch, who offered up to $6/7 million. Ultimately the work went to a phone bidder for $14.3 million, more than double the high estimate of $7 million. And Joan Miró’s Peinture, 1927, was snapped up by a phone bidder for $8.4 million, in the middle of the $8/10 million estimate.
There was a noticeable shift from last fall’s auctions that saw heated demand for works by Amedeo Modigliani. At Sotheby’s in November, Le fils du concierge, 1918, a portrait of a seated boy, sparked a bidding war (ANL, 11/28/07) and eventually sold for $31.1 million, just shy of the record $31.4 million set in 2004.
This time around, Modigliani’s Portrait de Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918, elicited little response in the saleroom. The work was bought in after bidding rose no higher than $7.25 million (estimate: $8/10 million). Several lots later, a similar response met the artist’s Jeune fille assise, les cheveux dénoues (Jeune fille in bleu), 1919; it was passed over after a dearth of bids at the $9.25 million mark (estimate: $12/15 million).