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Amedeo Modigliani
Nu couché aux bras levés
pass at $8.8 million

Pablo Picasso

Chaim Soutine
Jeune Femme en Rouge
ca. 1928

Pablo Picasso
Femme Encrivant

artnet auction report: the sharp collection

by Walter Robinson

By all accounts, Evelyn Sharp (1903-1994) was unusual. After her husband Jesse Sharp died in 1941, she took over his business, and by the '50s had assembled a major portfolio of hotels and real estate (including the Stanhope and the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles). Savvy investments in the stock market made her a big holder of IBM. Her philanthropic activities were widespread. In the arts, she helped found the Los Angeles Music Center, served on the board of the Martha Graham Dance Company, and with her son, the late Peter Jay Sharp, funded the Sharp Gallery in the Metropolitan Museum's 20th-century wing. She launched the Evelyn Sharp Foundation in 1952.

She also formed an art collection, strong in works by Picasso, Chagall and Modigliani, that was put on the block at Sotheby's last night, Nov. 12, 1997. Of the 39 lots, 34 sold for $41.2 million, an impressive sum that is nevertheless substantially under the presale estimate of $59 million to $78 million. Sotheby's actually lost money on the sale. "Our estimates were too high," said Sotheby's c.e.o. Diana Brooks. "We did not make our guarantee." Brooks noted that the auction house would most likely sell enough of the remaining lots in the coming days to put the transaction in the black.

The top three lots were by Picasso, selling for $6 million, $5 million and $4 million -- all at or below their low estimates. A pleasant 1933 Matisse, Still Life with Three Vases, went for $3.3 million (est. $3,500,000-$4,500,000). Top lot among the six Sharp Chagalls was Lovers with Lilies (1922-25), a strong picture that sold for $3.2 million (est. $2,500,000-$3,500,000). Prices are listed in the table below, and include the auction-house commission.

Among the big buy-ins was lot 22, the 1916 Modigliani nude, estimated to sell for $12 million. It was bought in at $8.8 million -- though it seemed that no one was actually bidding from $7.8 million on up. Presumably the reserve was about $9 million. The picture was atypical for Modigliani, a little too painterly, and with a rather lurid look in the model's eyes, which stare out at the viewer. Considering the circumstances, auctioneer Henry Wyndham, imported from Sotheby's London office for the sale, did a good job -- posh but not drawling.

Other interesting prices included the $772,500 paid for lot 12, Soutine's Young Woman in Red (ca. 1928), a picture with character (est. $300,000-$400,000). The collection included a Rouault, the priapic Coucher de Soleil (1937-39), which sold for $387,500 (est. $400,000-$600,000), and a Utrillo, Rue Saint-Rustique a Montmarte (1911), that went for $277,500 (est. $300,000-$400,000). Both prices, though below estimate, were huge for 1997.

The disappointing results of the sale point up one of the problems with big-ticket auctions, in which reserves are set aggressively. Though the Sharp collection was of high quality, it lacked challenging individual works that can bring up the value of the rest. For all her dynamism, Evelyn Sharp liked sweet, saccharine pictures -- and one can argue that such things sell better privately.

1. ArchipenkoRepose...$90,000-$120,000$211,500
2. DufyChevaux, Jockeys,...$120,000-$160,000$255,500
3. ArchipenkoBlue Dancer$400,000-$600,000$750,500
4. van DongenLa fillette au chapeau$600,000-$800,000$1,157,500
5. MaillolMonument à Debussy$800,000-$1,000,000$827,500
6. MatisseNature Morte aux Trois Vases$3.5 million-$4.5 million$3,302,500
7. van Dongen"Caoutchouc"...$400,000-$600,000$330,250
8. ArchipenkoGondolier$700,000-$900,000$497,500
9. ArchipenkoWoman Combing Her Hair$700,000-$900,000$882,500
10. PicassoNus$6 million-$8 million$6,052,500
11. UtrilloRue Saint-Rustique...$300,000-$400,000$277,500
12. SoutineJeune Femme en Rouge$300,000-$400,000$772,500
13. ChagallLes Amoureux aux Lys$2.5 million-$3.5 million$3,192,500
14. ChagallFleurs dans un vase bleu$700,000-$900,000$607,500
15. PicassoLa Toilette de Vénus$5 million-$7 million$4,952,500
16. PicassoAdolescents,...$250,000-$350,000$277,500
17. DufyLa Grille$500,000-$700,000pass at $320,000
18. PicassoFemme Nue Couchée...$3 million-$4 million$2,830,500
19. DufyLe Cirque$200,000-$300,000$244,500
20. ChagallRoses et Mimosas$1.5 million-$2 million$1,322,500
21. ChagallHommage au Peintre$600,000-$800,000$552,500
22. ModiglianiNu Couché...$12 millionpass at $8.8 million
23. DufyDans Le Jardin...$200,000-$300,000$222,500
24. SoutineL'Etudiant$300,000-$400,000$277,500
25. PascinLa Petite Nana...$80,000-$120,000$118,000
26. PicassoFemme Ecrivant$5 million-$7 million$4,072,500
27. RouaultCoucher de Soleil$400,000-$600,000$387,500
28. ModiglianiPortrait de M. Cheron$1 million-$1.5 million$992,500
29. PicassoJeune Femme...$3 million-$4 million$2,830,500
30. BraqueNature Morte Ensoleilée$600,000-$800,000$552,500
31. ChagallLe Vase...$1 million-$1.5 million$1,432,500
32. PicassoGuitare et Compotier...$3 million-$4 millionpass at $2.3 million
33. de VlaminckSous Le Pont de Bezons$3.5 million-$4.5 millionpass at $2.9 million
34. ChagallLa Cruche aux Fleurs$400,000-$600,000$332,500
35. PicassoPitcher with Shepards$30,000-$40,000$28,750
36. LégerLe Coq Orange$15,000-$20,000$13,800
37. CalderA Weird Man$25,000-$35,000$52,900
38. CalderEvelyn$6,000-$8,000$40,250
39. CalderFishy II$300,000-$400,000pass
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of ArtNet Magazine.