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    Lagerfeld's Neoclassical Gas
by Joyce Caruso Corrigan
A view of lunch at Lagerfeld's?
From the Christie's auction catalogue
Louis XVI gueridon
by Martin Carlin
$1,075,512 at Christie's Monaco, April 29, 2000
Louis XVI armoire by Jean-Henri Riesener
$494,492 at Christie's Monaco
Pierre-Antoine Demachy
The Clearing of the Colonnade du Louvre...
at Christie's New York, May 23, 2000
Adam Frans van der Meulen
The Meeting between Kings Philip IV and Louis XIV on Pheasants Island
at Christie's New York
Jean-Honoré Fragonard
The Visitation
at Christie's New York
The beautiful room was empty. Well, maybe one-third full. It was 2 p.m. on May 24 at Christie's New York, the afternoon of the much-anticipated sale of "Old Master Paintings from the Lagerfeld Collection." Except for the too-tanned Englishman being asked by the guard to remove himself from atop the lacquered parquetry table a trumeau (stamped by Doirat in 1720 and carrying a presale estimate of $50,000-$80,000), things were pretty quiet. Notably, no Chanel supermodels -- yes, it was that Lagerfeld -- or anyone else from the young and the richest set.

You couldn't have asked for better buzz beforehand. The auction of Lagerfeld's furniture just a month ago at Christie's Monaco was a spectacular success. After a nine-day viewing at the newly opened Christie's Paris, where some 12,000 people stopped by, the 400 lots of 18th-century French furniture, silver, porcelain and works of art sold for a total of $21.7 million, the second highest result ever achieved for such a collection.

Highlights of the Monaco sale were the Louis XV vase, which at $1,121, 382 went well above its presale estimate. A Martin Carlin gueridon more than doubled the top estimate and sold for $1,075,512. A Louis XVI mahogany armoire by Jean-Henri Riesener, estimated at $170,000-$250,000, went to an anonymous buyer for $494,492.

Curiously, the mahogany commode designed by Oeben, which was once owned (and presumably used) by Madame de Pompadour, sold for $270,952, only slightly above its $200,000 high estimate.

As for the Lagerfeld painting sale in New York on May 24, in the end Christie's sold 125 of the 142 lots for a total of $7.2 million. The overall estimate for all Lagerfeld property was originally set at $40 million, somewhat more than the $28.9 million raised from both the Monaco and New York auctions.

According to Christie's spokesperson Margaret Doyle, $40 million now "seems an impossible figure given the fluctuation in currencies from April to May … the accurate presale estimate should have been more like $28 million." Which means, with the actual total being $28.9 million, Christie's actually came in a hair above its estimate.

Just two weeks before, Karl Lagerfeld himself had been the center of art-world buzz when he locked ormolu-encrusted horns with Philippe de Montebello over a long-planned Chanel exhibition at the Met. Result: Karl took his pearls and went home to Paris. Still, his presence in New York loomed large with the much-advertised Old Masters sale and the exhibition of his own signature, sexy photographs on sale on Christie's second floor.

Auctioneer James Bruce-Gardyne said that despite the low turnout and the low-key tenor of the room, Christie's was "very happy indeed" with the results of the sale. "Eighty percent of the lots were bought by private collectors. This is clearly a growth area for this kind of collection. When the right paintings are at the right price there's a market."

Most of the market, it seemed, phoned in its enthusiasm. Of the top ten selling lots, seven went to Europeans. "Since there was also a viewing in Paris, it meant a lot of people had seen the works and didn't need to come to New York." Asked if a sale like this one -- Rococo and Neoclassical French paintings being sold by a living French icon -- would have taken place in Christie's Paris if that house had had its license, Gardyne would say only that it would be decided "on a case-by-case basis."

The sale's top lot was the pair of paintings by Pierre Antoine Demachy: Clearing of the Colonnade du Louvre (and the Demolition of the Hotel Rouille), which was estimated between $130,000 and $160,000. The lot sold for $424,000, a world auction record for the artist -- and a nice metaphor for Lagerfeld's own "clearing" of his Neoclassical collection from his Paris residence.

Three other paintings set world auction records for the artists: Claude-Louis Chatelet's The Pyramid at the Chateau de Maupertuis, which went for $391,000, more than twice its high estimate of $150,000; Jean-Francois Hue's Views of the Chateau de Mousseaux and Its Gardens, which sold for $248,000 (est. $130,000-$160,000); and Adam Frans van der Meulen's The Meeting between Kings Philip IV and Louis XIV on Pheasants Island, which sold for $226,000, well above its $100,000 high estimate.

Works by two of the masters of this period -- Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher -- performed less than spectacularly. Fragonard's The Visitation sold for only $42,000 more than its high estimate, while his Rest on the Flight to Egypt (est. $250,000-$300,000) was bought in. Boucher's Allegory of Marriage sold for just above the low estimate at $281,000. While another work by Hue, View of the Hotel du Chassins Curtilly went for almost half of its low estimate of $35,000.

Edmondo di Robilant of London's Dover Street Gallery, one of the Old Master dealers who did attend the sale, was looking bored and was going home empty-handed. "Basically, these are decorative French pictures, with a few exceptions. Lagerfeld is a connoisseur of the period and operatic in his vision. His homes are meant to be magnificent. But he's more decorator than collector."

That there were no Claudia Schiffers or other members of the affluent young set who've recently been buying up Jeff Koons at auction, Godyne wasn't surprised: "They're probably not going to be interested in 18th century paintings" Too bad -- when you could easily trade in last season's Chanel suit for a nice portrait by Louis Leopold Boilly.

Perhaps more than any allegorical painting or mahogany armoire, what summed up the spirit of these two auctions -- with Lagerfeld disposing of his personal neoclassical period -- was upstairs in the gallery of Lagerfeld photographs. It was a portrait of a beautiful young male model -- naked except for a beauty mark and a white powdered periwig. A steal at $7,000.

JOYCE CARUSO CORRIGAN writes on art and culture.