AUCTION VERDICT -- NO SLUMP YET
Call it the Republican bounce. The day after national U.S. elections that gave control of Congress to George W. Bush and the G.O.P., the top-level art market shook itself out of its doldrums and posted solid results at an admittedly motley evening sale of Impressionist and modern art at Christie's New York on Nov. 6, 2002. In all, 40 of 54 lots, or 74 percent, sold for a total of $67.5 million. And seven of the ten highest prices were paid by private American collectors.
Top lot was Pablo Picasso's Monkey with Young (1951), a jolly 21-inch-tall bronze of a baboon cradling its offspring (whose head is made of two of Claude's toy cars) that some art-world observers thought would go for as much as $10 million. It sold for $6,719,500 over a presale estimate of $5 million-$7 million. The work had been offered at Christie's seven years ago, in 1995, but failed to sell over an estimate of $3.5 million-$5 million. This time around, the result was an auction record for a sculpture by the artist. (Prices given here include the auction house commission of 19.5 percent of the first $100,000 and 10 percent of the remainder.)
Other top lots included Fernand Léger's Two Acrobats (1918), a raucous Cubist celebration of the end of the war containing at its center a war-stricken face, which sold for $5.5 million (est. $6 million-$8 million), and Paul Gauguin's serene Cabane sous les Arbres (1892), painted during the artist's first trip to Tahiti, which went for $4.4 million (est. $3.5 million-$5.5 million). Paul Cézanne's L'Estaque vu à travers les arbres (1878-79) sold for $4.4 million (est. $4 million-$6 million), as did Gustave Caillebotte's Le pont de l'Europe (1876), though over a smaller presale estimate of $2.5 million-$3.5 million.
Auction records were also set for Julio Gonzalez, whose Homme gothique (1937) sold for $3.4 million (est. $1.5 million-$2 million); Alexej von Jawlensky, whose Junges Mädchen mit den grünen Augen (ca. 1910) sold for $3.3 million (est. $1.2 million-$1.6 million), and Alexander Archipenko, whose Blue Dancer (1913) went for $999,500 (est. $700,000-$1,000,000). New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch was spotted in the room bidding on the latter.
Major unsold lots in the sale included a late Claude Monet, Le bassin aux nymphéas (1917-1919), which carried a presale estimate of $10 million-$15 million. Though quite lovely, the painting is not signed but rather estate-stamped, and looks somewhat unfinished -- factors which tend to put collectors off. The other top lot that found no buyer was Amedeo Modigliani's La robe noire (1918), which was passed over an estimate of $9 million-$12 million. This work is also fairly sketchy, with a somewhat unresolved lower section, according to one commentator. The sale's other Modigliani, Beatrice Hastings devant une port (1915), sold for $4,189,500 (est. $2.5 million-$3.5 million).
The auction contained one surprising museum deaccession. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which has in recent decades specialized in cutting-edge contemporary art, somehow found in its storerooms a marble by Auguste Rodin, Le baiser du Fantôme à la jeune fille (ca. 1892-94). The 23-inch long work, with the soft-edged figures of a sleeping girl and an approaching succubus seeming to emerge from the rough-cut block of white stone, was acquired by the museum in 1956 and has not been shown for some time. It exists in bronze and two other marble versions. It sold for $800,000 at the hammer, well over its presale high estimate of $600,000. "The Rodin is so far outside our mission that it wasn't being seen," said museum curator Joan Rothfuss, "and we thought it would make sense to get it out there." The Walker is also selling an Odilon Redon painting in Christie's Nov. 7 day sale (est. $350,000-$450,000).The funds go into Walker's art acquisitions fund.
At least one bidder was on quite a buying spree. The same anonymous collector bought the Léger, the Caillebotte and the Jawlensky, plus a small 1932 Picasso Le repos (lots 41, 26, 29 and 31). The bids were put in by Christie's senior specialist Cyanne Chutkow, speaking to her client on the telephone. This buyer spent some $16.6 million, and was only the most remarkable of several people making multiple purchases at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s, according to art journalist Brook Mason. "Despite the weakening global economy,” notes Mason, "there's a new breed of shoppers and their habits are lavish."
As always, for complete, illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report.
$81 MILLION AT SOTHEBY'S IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN
It was a bumpy road at Sotheby's evening auction of Impressionist and modern art in New York on Nov. 5, 2002, with 45 of 66 lots -- a relatively low 68 percent -- selling for a total of $81,453,500. But that's real money, and the house was relieved. "A solid sale," said Sotheby's specialist David Norman. "Quality rules," said his colleague Charles Moffett. Both men characterized the atmosphere in the auction room as "deliberate" and "controlled."
Top lot was a Claude Monet Nympheas from 1906, which sold for $18,709,500, within its presale estimate of $16 million-$20 million. According to press reports, the work was being sold by dyslectic telecommunications billionaire Craig McCaw, who paid $22.5 million for the picture at Christie's New York three years ago -- meaning he took a loss of almost $4 million on his investment. (Prices given here include the auction-house premium of 19.5 percent on the first $100,000 and 10 percent on the remainder).
Number two lot was Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione's Portrait of a Boy with Red Hair (1919) by Amedeo Modigliani, which sold for $8,479,500 (est. $6 million-$8 million). The beleaguered porn king sold a dozen works in a separate catalogue following the main sale, and did rather well: eight works sold for a total net to him of about $15.5 million, less the auction house commission (which is not disclosed). It turns out, too, that the price is an auction record for a portrait of a male by the artist.
An auction record was also set for the lesser-known Belgian Neo-Impressionist Theo van Rysselberghe, when his Voiliers sur l'Escault (1892) sold for $2,649,5000 (est. $1 million-$1.5 million). The brightly colored Pointillist view of a bay, complete with a hand-painted frame, has been in the collection of the late investment banker and art patron Arthur G. Altschul since 1954. The artist's previous record, set at Sotheby's New York in 1989, was $770,000.
An auction record was also set for a work by Max Ernst when his familiar 1944 bronze, The King Playing with the Queen, sold for $2,429,500 (est. $2.5 million-$3.5 million). Ernst's previous auction record of $1.4 million was set at Christie's New York two years ago.
Other lots of note included Elizabeth Taylor's mother-and-child painting by Mary Cassatt, Maternite (ca. 1906), which sold for $1,989,500, just below its low estimate of $2 million. No word on why the screen idol is parting with the work.
The star unsold lot of the night was Paul Cézanne's Standing Female Nude from ca. 1889-99, a unique work in the artist's oeuvre. "One of the greatest pictures I've seen in a long time," noted Moffett, who said it was a "puzzle" that no buyer was found. The painting was listed as being sold by a "private trust," though Carol Vogel in the New York Times identified the seller as Joceyln Wildenstein.
As always, for complete, illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report.
SLOW START AT PHILLIPS
New York's fall art-auction season got off to a decidedly slow start at the Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg evening auction of Impressionist and modern art on Nov. 4, 2002, as 25 of 44 lots were bought in. A total of 19 lots sold for just over $7 million (including the premium of 19.5 percent on the first $100,000 and 10 percent on the remainder). That's only 43 percent sold by lot -- the lowest for a major evening auction in recent memory.
The morning-after quarterbacks generally advance three possible reasons for the dismal results: 1) the economy, 2) the works had been "shopped around" privately, and 3) their reserves were too high.
The top lot was Lyonel Feininger's The Newspaper Readers (1909), a comical scene of striding townspeople mesmerized by the news (which supposedly involved a homosexual affair of two of the Kaiser's associates), which sold to a U.S. private collector for just over $2.2 million (est. $1.7 million-$2 million). Feininger began his career as a newspaper cartoonist in Berlin, and that experience is evident in this picture.
Franz Marc's Crouching Deer (1911) was the number two lot, selling to a telephone bidder for $999,500 (est. $700,000-$900,000). The tempera on cardboard work has special resonance to fans of the artist, as the catalogue points out, it seems to echo his characterization of his first encounter with Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in 1907, at which he walked "like a roe-deer in an enchanted forest, for which it has always yearned."
The sale got off to a good start with a block of 14 drawings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele that were reportedly from the collection of cosmetics millionaire Ronald S. Lauder, founder of the Neue Galerie in Manhattan. Top lot of this group was Schiele's especially contorted Nude from 1913, which sold for $339,500 (est. $350,000-$450,000). Klimt's notably erotic Nude with Spread Legs (ca. 1917-18), a study for the painting The Bride, sold for $141,500, well above its high estimate of $90,000.
Among the star lots in the sale that were passed was Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's 1913 hand-painted primitivist carving of his common-law wife Erna (est. $800,000-$1,200,000), Claude Monet's 1900 Pont dans le Jardin de Monet (est. $6.5 million-$8.5 million), the 20-year-old Pablo Picasso's 1901 Buste de Femme Souriante (est. $5 million-$7 million), and Joan Miró's 1927 Portrait (est. $2.5 million-$3.5 million).
The week's auction schedule continues with evening sales at Sotheby's on Nov. 5 and Christie's on Nov. 6.
For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report.