NEW YORK—Mid-season sales of American paintings, drawings and sculpture and Impressionist and modern art underscored the continuing buoyancy of the middle market. Christie’s and Sotheby’s both achieved healthy results in sales held from Sept. 13-16.
“The whole auction calendar has really turned into something that is year-round. There is definitely a demand to have property at these times of the year that we historically thought of as quiet times,” says Tanya Wells, assistant vice president and specialist at Christie’s. In the past this type of sale has drawn a regional crowd, but more and more the auction house is seeing a broader mix of international buyers, including Europeans and Asians, says Wells. “It’s really an eclectic mix.”
Says Jennifer Roth, senior vice president in charge of mid-season fine art sales at Sotheby’s: “There is definitely a need for these sales in the $10,000 to $60,000 middle-market range. This is definitely a level that encourages newer collectors, and we’re seeing a lot of dealers buying in these sales as well.”
Robust Impressionist and Modern Sales
Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art sale on Sept. 13 fetched $3.2 million. Of 199 works on offer, 78 percent, or 155, found buyers.
The top price of $132,000 was paid for Pierre- Auguste Renoir’s Jeune fille à la Charlotte, which flew above estimate for $132,000 (estimate: $80,000/120,000). A bronze sculpture with black patina, Standing Armed Figure, by Bernard Meadows (b. 1915), realized $57,000 (estimate: $15,000/20,000). Sotheby’s Roth noted particularly strong prices at the sale for British sculpture.
Christie’s sale of Impressionist and modern art on Sept. 14 garnered $2 million and was 89 percent sold by value. Of 153 works on offer, 120, or 78 percent, found buyers. A Latin-American collector paid the sale’s top price of $168,000 for Femme aux course, an oil on canvas by Jean-Pierre Cassigneul (b. 1935). The painting, depicting an elegantly dressed woman with a large hat at a racetrack, had been estimated at $30,000/40,000.
In comparison the second-highest lot, Matinée à Cannes, by Jules Cavaillés (1901-1977), went for $50,400, also above its presale estimate of $20,000/30,000. Fillette à la poupée, by Henri Martin (1860-1943), sold for $48,000 (estimate: $30,000/40,000).
Christie’s Wells notes that Cavaillés was one of a group of realist painters in Europe during the mid-1940s who remained true to realism instead of going to abstraction: “There are lots of interesting artists who are 20th-century but not very well-known who are selling well at auction. Not too long ago, many people would have considered such artists third-tier.”
Thieme Scene Trumps American Art Sales
Christie’s sale of American paintings, drawings and sculpture on Sept. 15 also fared well, realizing $2.66 million and a sold-by-dollar rate of 89 percent. The three highest lots pulled in solid, six-figure prices, with all of them selling for at least three times the high estimate.
The house sold 137, or 76 percent, of the works on offer. The top lot was Evening Light on the Suwannee River, by Anthony Thieme (1888-1954), which took $144,000, more than quadrupling the high estimate of $35,000. Aviva Itzkowitz, an assistant vice president and head of the sale, said the subject matter was likely a major factor in the price, noting recent competition for Florida scene pictures. Many of Thieme’s paintings sell for under $50,000, she notes. “Six figures for a Thieme would have been unheard of five years ago.”
This was followed by Factories, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, by Stefan Hirsch (1899-1964), which brought $120,000, more than triple the high estimate of $35,000. The work, which came from the collection of the Oklahoma Arts Institute, drew “aggressive interest,” says Itzkowitz, who adds that “Hirsch has never made that much at auction before.” Jane Peterson’s oil-and-gouache Bridge, Venice, circa 1955, made $108,000.
Sotheby’s sale of American art on Sept. 16 realized $2.86 million, with 127 of 154 lots finding buyers. Though most lots sold well under the six-figure level, one exception was the 1911 oil-on-canvas A Precious Flower, by Leon Kroll (1884-1975), which soared past its modest $5,000/7,000 estimate to earn $108,000.
According to Sotheby’s catalogue, the work is related to at least three other paintings by Kroll, dating from 1911, in which he depicted figures and incorporated mirror reflections. At the time Kroll had recently returned to New York from Paris, where he had been strongly influenced by the Impressionists.
“It was really just a superb work from a good date,” says Roth. Though the less-than-pristine condition of the picture factored into its low estimate, she says that Sotheby’s was not surprised by the eventual price it achieved, since there had been considerable interest shown after the catalogue went out. The buyer was a European art dealer.
Other strong prices were achieved for Paddock Parade, a work by Leroy Neiman (b. 1927), which realized $81,000 (estimate: $15,000/20,000); and a pair of Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) drawings, The Big Parade and Playing Hookey. Estimated at $20,000/30,000, the pair fetched $57,000.
The painting Bébé souriant à deux jeunes femmes, circa 1908, by Mary Cassatt (1845-1926)—an oil on canvas, laid on board—was sold for $72,000 (estimate: $40,000/60,000).