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Jan. 30, 2007 

New York's two big auction houses launched 2007 with a dense calendar of sales, notably focusing on Americana and Old Masters. Records fell like drunken sailors.

Sotheby's two-day sale of Old Master paintings on Jan. 25-26, 2007, totaled $110,993,240, above the presale high estimate of $100.5 million and the highest ever for a sale in this category. A total of 321 of 440 lots found buyers, or 72.9 percent. New auction records were set for Joseph Wright of Derby ($7,208,000), Francisco Zurbarán ($3,512,000), Pierre Joseph Redouté ($2,504,000) and Baccio Bandinelli ($576,000).

The top lot was a late Rembrandt van Rijn portrait of a praying disciple, Saint James the Greater (1661), which sold for $25,800,000 to an anonymous Asian buyer. Consigned by the heirs of Stephen Carlton Clark, co-founder of the Clark Art Institute, the painting had been on offer at the booth of Salander-O'Reilly Galleries at TEFAF Maastricht last March for $50 million, with the instruction that it go to a museum. The auction estimate was $18 million-$25 million, which proved fairly accurate. The proceeds are earmarked for a new foundation benefiting the "under-served poor."

The second highest-priced lot was also a Rembrandt, his Portrait of a Young Woman with a Black Cap (1632), which was recently reattributed to the artist by the Rembrandt Research Project. It sold for $9 million to an anonymous private collector, well above the presale high estimate of $4 million.

Sotheby's sale of property from the gallery and private collection of Old Master dealer Otto Naumann on Jan. 25 totaled $2,909,100, just under the presale high estimate of $3.1 million. Of the 146 lots offered, only 13 failed to sell, for a sale rate of more than 91 percent. Part of the proceeds benefit the American Friends of the Mauritshuis, the Committee of Friends of the Rembrandt Corpus and the department of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum.

Sotheby's sale of Old Master drawings on Jan. 24 totaled $4,154,260, with 81 of 125 lots finding buyers, or 64.8 percent. The top lot, a double-sided drawing by Francsico de Goya, sold for $1,048,000 to the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The price was over three times the presale high estimate of $300,000.

For its part, Christie's New York -- which last year moved its major Old Master sales to April -- held a single sale of Old Master drawings on Jan. 25. The sale total was $7,884,040, with 81 of 96 lots selling, or 84 percent. Top lot was Hans Baldung Grien's Head of a man, in three-quarter-profile to the left, done in black chalk on light brown paper, which sold for $3,712,000, well above the presale high estimate of $1,000,000 and a new auction record for the artist. The top ten at Christie's also included new records for drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo ($329,600) and Hans Suss von Kulmbach ($132,000).

With the coming of February come sales of Impressionist, modern, post-war and contemporary art in London.

For its contemporary art sale on Feb. 7, Sotheby's London is touting a painting by Peter Doig, White Canoe (1990-91), which is estimated to go for £800,000-£1,200,000. With an exchange rate of £1 = $1.95, that could amount to real money.

Christie's London is boasting of the largest ever evening sales, both of Impressionist and modern art on Feb. 6 and of post-war and contemporary art on Feb. 8. Among the highlights are a bleak painting from 1911 by Egon Schiele, when the artist was 21, titled Prozession (est. £5,000,000-£7,000,000), and a Francis Bacon "pope" painting, Study for Portrait II (1963), which is estimated at £12,000,000. According to London journalist Colin Gleadell, the Bacon is owned by Sophia Loren.

Phillips, de Pury & Co. is getting in on the London action with a two-part sale on Feb. 6. Starting at 4 pm is a sale of 51 lots of contemporary art, followed by a second session of 41 lots of contemporary art from a single private collection.

On Feb. 6, 2007, Swann Galleries at 104 East 25th Street in Manhattan is conducting the first New York auction devoted entirely to African-American fine art, with a sale of over 200 lots overseen by Nigel Freeman, who heads Swann's new African-American fine art department. "The art world has been waiting for this," said Swann president Nicholas D. Lowry.

The sale includes complete print portfolios of two major works by Jacob Lawrence, the 22-screenprint Legend of John Brown and the 15-print Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture. Both carry presale estimates of $130,000-$160,000. Also featured in the sale is Beauford Delaney's tall Untitled (Yellow Painting) (1962) (est. $70,000-$100,000), from the artist's series of "Yellow Paintings" made in Paris. Other artists represented in the sale are Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Norman Lewis, Dox Thrash, Charles White and Hale Woodruff as well as Sam Gilliam, David Hammons, Faith Ringgold and Kara Walker.

Christie's launches its second sale of contemporary art in Dubai on Feb. 1, 2007, at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel there. The lots include works by Arab, Iranian and Indian artists as well as Western artists like Gary Hume, Sam Francis, Robert Indiana, Bridget Riley and Andy Warhol. Presale estimates range from a few thousand dollars to six figures for paintings by M.F. Husain, Ram Kumar, Ahmed Moustafa, Syed Haider Raza, F.N. Souza and Akbar Padamsee. A Warhol Dollar Sign from 1981, done in paint on paper, with the Warhol foundation stamp but no signature, is estimated at $60,000-$80,000.

Another super-rich art patron has been brought low after his high-flying financial doings crashed and burned. New York-based hedge-fund manager Wolfgang Flöttl, now accused of embezzlement by Austrian prosecutors in connection with a $1 billion bank loss there, was a big player in the art market in the late 1980s and '90s. According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, Flöttl obtained a $244 million line of credit from Sotheby's and assembled a collection of almost 80 artworks, including Vincent van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890) and Pablo Picasso's Le Rêve (1932). He was also tapped by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to underwrite its 1989 Costume Institute benefit.

The van Gogh, which sold at Christie's in 1990 to Japanese industrialist Ryoei Saito for a record $82.5 million, apparently went to Flöttl for $90 million in 1997, in a transaction brokered by Sotheby's. Flöttl is also assumed to have bought the Picasso at Christie's in 1997, where it sold for $48.4 million. Flöttl was forced to sell his art holdings, however, after he lost over $750 million in currency trading in 1998, and another huge sum in a second go-around in 2000, according to the WSJ.

The whole world knows where Le Reve ended up -- with Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn, who recently punched a highly publicized hole in the picture [see "Vom Traum zum Alptraum," Jan. 17, 2007]. Wynn reportedly paid close to $60 million for the work in 2003. As for Dr. Gachet, the painting's present owner remains a mystery. According to WSJ reporter David Crawford, bank auditors said that it was sold on short notice back to the auction house. "There must have been a ready buyer waiting," he speculated.

Culturegrrl blogger Lee Rosenbaum thinks the work may have been snapped up by megacollector Ronald Lauder and that it could appear in the Neue Galerie's forthcoming exhibition, "Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism," which goes on view Mar. 23-July 2, 2007. A museum spokesman says no -- but that doesn't mean that Lauder didn't buy the picture for his own collection. Stay tuned.

Christie's has appointed Laura Paulson, one of the firm's specialists in postwar and contemporary art, to the post of deputy chairman, Christie's Americas. Hard-working and well liked, Paulson oversaw the recent sales of the collection of Lee V. Eastman as well as the Edward R. Broida collection.

Christie's International, which is privately held, has issued some impressive figures for 2006. Overall, Christie's said it sold art worth £2.51 billion ($4.67 billion) during the year, a 36 percent increase over results for 2005. "2006 was a phenomenal year for Christie's in terms of sales, profitability and the works that were entrusted to us," said Christie's CEO Edward Dolman. Sales totals include the auction premium, which is typically 20 percent of the first $200,000 of the sale price and 12 percent of the remainder.

Christie's can boast of the second-highest price paid at auction in 2006 for a work of art: Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, which sold for $87.9 million in New York. (Sotheby's had the top price, with Pablo Picasso's Dora Maar au chat, which made $95.2 million). In all, 525 works of art sold at Christie's auctions for over $1 million last year. The $4.67 billion total includes private sales of more than £137 million ($256 million). Christie's conducted more than 600 sales in 16 locations around the world in 2006.

Christie's Impressionist and modern art department did approximately $1.23 billion, up 80.9 percent over 2005, while the post-war and contemporary art department totalled $822 million, a climb of almost 50 percent from last year. Christie's sales of Russian art in 2006 were $70.5 million, and its sales of Asian Indian art totalled $42.2 million for 2006.

Among its global initiatives, Christie's cites its new office and art auction in Dubai; its full-time representative based in Mumbai; its participation in the 2006 Moscow World Fine Art Fair; its second sale in Beijing in partnership with the Forever auction house; and exhibitions held in Shanghai, Istabul and Athens.

Sotheby's is expected to release its 2006 sales report on the first of March 2007.

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