NEW YORK—Christie’s sale of 19th- and 20th- century art in Tel Aviv on April 27 met with uneven demand, despite what the house characterized as the highest total to date for a sale in Israel. In all, the auction realized $4.6 million for 120 lots. Of these, 76, or 63 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 75 percent sold.
At the high end of the sale, intense competition resulted in prices that far exceeded expectations. Marc Chagall’s Le chant du Roi David, 1976, for instance, surpassed the $350,000/450,000 estimate to fetch $713,000 from a European dealer. Chagall’s Le violiniste allongé, 1969, on the other hand, sold within its $350,000/450,000 estimate for $421,000.
An artist record was set for Reuven Rubin (1893-1974), when his 1927 oil on canvas, Old Sycamore Trees, sold for $623,400 (estimate: $250,000/350,000). The painting was listed in the catalogue as “property of the U.S. Government.”
According to Christie’s, the work was one of two paintings stolen in 1982 during their return to Israel from a U.S. exhibition. Since the U.S. government had provided an indemnity agreement to insure the paintings during the show, it paid a settlement to the original owners of the paintings, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and a private gallery in Jerusalem.
As a result, the government was entitled to the works in the event they were recovered. Eventually the paintings were found in a Jaffa flea market in the late 1980s. The painting originally owned by the Israel Museum was returned to it after the museum reimbursed the U.S. government.
Two other works by Rubin were also among the top lots: Rubin and Esther, 1940-60, sold for $127,000 (estimate: $80,000/120,000); and Landscape near Safed, 1960, took $106,600 (estimate: $50,000/70,000). An abstract oil on canvas, Composition, by Serge Poliakoff (1900-69) sold for $211,000, and Parable of 1 x 1, by Mordecai Ardon (1896-1992), sold for $241,000 (estimate: $200,000/300,000).