Sotheby's set the standard for the new art boom with its auction of Impressionist and modern art on Nov. 11, knocking down $144.26 million worth of paintings, with five -- 5! -- fetching over $10 million. Bidders went hammer and tongs over the two best and most reasonably estimated works -- Amedeo Modigliani's Nu Assis sur un Divan (La Belle Romaine), which sold for a record $16.8 million, and Edgar Degas' Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, which fetched $12.4 million, the most anyone has paid at auction for a sculpture.
But buyers were choosy. Paul Cézanne's Pichet de Gres, estimated at $18 million-$25 million, squeaked by at the reserve, selling for $16.5 million to Zurich dealer Beda Jedlicka of Art Focus. And Claude Monet's Dans la Prairie came within a whisker of not selling. Auctioneer Tobias Meyer garnered a single, last-second bid to save the painting, which sold at $15.4 million. A moment after he brought the hammer down, Sotheby's chairwoman Diana D. Brooks let out a visible sigh of relief. Had either work not sold, the sale would have been verging on a disaster graced with a few high points.
And works that were tough or had been on the market too recently simply went unsold. Paul Gauguin's Les Premieres Fleurs is the kind of painting that belongs in a museum, a painting that comes about as close to abstraction as the artist gets. But it certainly isn't sexy, and at its $4 million-$6 million estimate, no one ventured a bid. Picasso's Garçon à la Collerette ($10 million-$15 million) had sold in November 1995 for $12.1 million, yet didn't elicit a bid this time as the seller and Sotheby's were asking too much money too soon.
The market is strong but thin. Sotheby's was willing to take some flyers, some of which paid off. Jedlicka was happy to be the only serious bidder on the Cézanne. "I think the size (relatively small) scared some people away. Perhaps it will go to a museum," he said, thinking of its lack of splashy wall-power.
The bidding was all pretty bloodless, which doesn't make for good entertainment but is welcome on the grounds of sanity.
Sale total: $144,256,000 (presale est. $150.4 million-$205.9 million), 86.83 percent sold by dollar. 45 lots offered, 36 sold, 9 unsold, 80 percent sold by lot.
Beda Jedlicka of Art Focus gallery, Zurich, bought Cézanne's Pichet de Gres (1893-94) for $16.5 million (est. $18 million-$25 million) as well as Picasso's Homme et Femme (1969) for $1.54 million (est. $1.3 million-$1.6 million).
Private dealer Katherine Couturier, bidding on behalf of dealer and museum director Ernst Beyeler, Basel, bought Picasso's Buste de Femme -- Dora Maar (1939) for $3.41 million (est. $2.5 million-$3.5 million) and Picasso's Buste de Femme Dans une Chambre Rouge et Violette (1938) for $3.85 million ($2.5 million-$3.5 million).
Rory Howard of Dickenson Roundell, Inc., New York, bought Tsuguharu Foujita's Mon Portrait (1926) for $1.05 million (est. $1 million-$1.5 million).
Richard Gray of Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, bought Alberto Giacometti's Buste d'Annette IV, executed in 1962, for $827,500 (est. $600,000-$700,000).
James Roundell, a private dealer in London and partner of Dickenson-Roundell, Inc., bought Henry Moore's Mother with Child on Lap for $838,500 (est. $500,000-$700,000).