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|Artnet Auction Report
by Stewart Waltzer
|T'was the night before Christie's, and all through the house
The experts were surly, the new boss was a louse
The files were all fixed by the chimney with care
In hopes that the DA soon would be there.
You could say we were overwhelmed by the Christie's spirit.
On Taubman, on Brooks
Now Pinault, now Davidge
Who'd think the great houses soon would be ravaged?
By class action suits of an unknown number
That would rend all that nasty collusion asunder.
Give me collusion. It was cheaper. Twenty percent is a lot to pay for the privilege of buying at auction. Besides, obtaining immunity is easily as time consuming as obtaining properties, so Christie's May 8 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist evening sale was not, as they say, "top drawer." Indeed, one could hardly find more dogs in 101 Dalmatians than graced this evening's turntable.
Forty-seven lots were marched to the block. Only five were bought in, but 51 percent failed to exceed the low estimate. Twenty-five percent exceeded the low but not the high, and 24 percent exceeded the high. Well done, as truly ordinary art was sold for extraordinary prices, as the score board fluttered through various currencies at the right of the stage. Dollar si! Euro no!
Christie's chief auctioneer Christopher Burge sounded plummier than ever as he welcomed the evening's guests -- who included virtual, as the sale was streamed over the internet. No more, "Bid in the gallery." Now it's "Bid in cyberspace." It didn't happen, really, since no one dared.
Not to be catty, but have you noticed that the catalogues are becoming more like Town and Country, with photos of dead billionaires looking really smart interspersed among the lots? Last night's had three such photos, of Frank Ginn, Guy Bjorkman, and the ever lovely Emery and Wendy Reves. Nor is a lot to be offered as Property of a Gentleman, as tradition had it. In lockstep with the times, Christie's now presents Properties of Distinguished Collectors.
Bright spot of the evening: lot 4, the dazzling Pissarro, Paysage à Osny prés de l'abreuvoir (1883), which sold for $2.2 million to a phone bidder (est. $1.5 million-$2.5 million). This teleclient did well -- not all of them were as lucky. As the sale drew on, many phone bidders were pushed hard by that ubiquitous Mr. Reserve while the room sat on its hands and watched them slug it out. (Prices mentioned do not include the buyer's premium.)
First woof of the evening (what's a woof? A picture that barks when you walk in): lot 5, the Renoir Tête de jeune fille (1890), a saccharine portrait of an unpleasant woman fussing with her hair, which sold for $1.5 million (est. $1.2 million-$1.6 million).
The Sisley landscape Le village de Champagne au coucher du soleil -- avril (1885) -- a two woofer according to a major Mad Ave dealer -- sold for $320,000 over an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. Surprisingly, lot 7, the Degas pastel of Two Dancers Doing the Funky Chicken, or in French, Danseuses au repos, sold for $900,000 (est. $800,000-$1,000,000). The Dutch Monet, Moulin en Hollande (1871), rated at a woof and a yawn, sold for $2,750,000 (est. $3 million-$4 million) -- an indication of the depth of market stability, as these Dutch things never sell.
The cover lot, the Caillebotte, L'homme au balcon, boulevarde Haussmann (1880), sold for $13 million (est. $6 million to $8 million), after the auctioneer, plateauing at $11-odd million, said to the bidder, "What'll you give me?" 13, I guess. Not the greatest work ever, it set a record at auction for the artist when it sold for $13 million at the hammer. (Caillebotte's previous record was $2 million plus change [with premium] for Pecheurs sur la Seine, 1888, sold at Christie's London in 1989.)
Bought-in was Toulouse-Lautrec's Le femme au chapeau noir, Berthe la Sourde (1890), which shows what looks like an aged Lotte Lenya in drag. It's actually a beautiful picture, though it's a face only a mother could love. Down it went at $3.4 million over an estimate of $6 million to $8 million.
From the foundation of famed D.C. socialite Gwendolyn Cafritz was a ravishing Degas Scene de ballet (ca. 1879). To die for, the pastel-over-monotype is only 8 by 16 in., and sold for $1.8 million, its low estimate.
Two Monet Nyphéas paintings were auctioned. Lot 21, dated 1906 and measuring 35 x 39 in., was reputedly offered by private treaty at Christie's halfway house for $27 million. It sold for at auction $19 million -- highest price for the evening. The second, Le bassin au nymphéas, the less attractive stepsister, brought only $6.2 million, over an estimate of $9 million to $12 million. It was from a European estate. It pays to shop from the dead -- they are so unreserved.
There were enough Rodins in the sale to melt down into a good-sized cannon. They all sold for record prices, at least as measured by the ordinary reality of art gallery sales. There were two Kisses, a little kiss and a big kiss, the latter commanding $1.6 million from an affluent bidder who likes his erotica bronzed (est. $2 million-$3 million). There was also a Metamorphosis, a Danaide, a marble Eve after the Peach, an Eternal Spring, and finally, one of the Burgers of Calais, which was the only Rodin to pass. No one likes guys in chains -- except maybe my ex-wife.
What is the current fascination with Renoir? The portrait of Berthe Morisot and her daughter, Julie Manet (1894) sold for $8 million to a telephone bidder while the auctioneer bobbed up and down calling out bids from a room that appeared to be mummified. It was less than the house had hoped with its estimate of $9 million to $12 million, but many thought they were lucky to have anything at all. It had an appeal that reached out to the Barbie in all of us. Still, six out of seven Renoirs sold. Hallelujah.
Lot 41, the Monet La Creuse, soleil couchant, serves as a metaphor for the sale. It was perhaps not Claude's best effort, but it sold for a lavish $950,000 over an estimate of $1.2 million to $1.6 million. A few years ago it might not have brought even half that. The strength of our economy and the scarcity of excellent material has endowed lesser works with greater value, and ennobled a new generation of collectors. The old guard wouldn't stand for it. Those boys will wait till the market heats up still further before they cart the good stuff to the block for the price of a small country. But they'd better not wait too long.
God rest ye merry gentlemen we've nothing left for sale. If we had not colluded, we'd not be facing jail. Tra la la la, la la la...
STEWART WALTZER is a New York dealer.