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Oct. 27, 2008 

Christie’s New York dubbed its special evening auction on Nov. 5, 2008, of works from the Alice Lawrence and Hillman Family collections "The Modern Age," but as it turned out the sale reflected contemporary market conditions all too closely. The impressive total for the two-estate sale, an addition to the usual evening calendar, was $47,039,500 (with premium), with 41 of 58 lots finding buyers, or 71 percent. The total, however, was less than a third of the presale high estimate of $150 million.

Two top lots were passed: Edouard Manet’s Fillette sur un banc (1880), a portrait of a young girl on a park bench, which carried a presale estimate of $14 million-$18 million (and could have used a cleaning); and Mark Rothko’s No. 43 (Mauve) (1960), estimated at $30 million. The Rothko had been bought by Lawrence, a real-estate heiress who lived in Ridgefield, Conn., for just $1.5 million at Sotheby’s New York in 1988.

Works that did sell, even in the top ten, often went for below their presale low estimates. The top lot, Giorgio de Chirico’s 1914 Composition Métaphysique, sold for $6,130,500 over a low estimate of $6 million, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Portrait de Henri Nocq (1897) sold for $4,450,500, less than its $6-million low estimate.

A better result was had for Rene Magritte’s late gouache of his emblematic L’Empire des Lumieres (1947), which sold for $3,554,500 (est. $2 million-$3 million), a record for a work on paper by the artist, according to the firm.

A new record was also set for a work on paper by Georges Seurat when the artist’s conté crayon drawing of the Maison carrée sold for $1,082,500, (est. $800,000-$1.2 million), and Alice Neel’s much-published portrait of Robert Smithson from 1962 sold for $698,500, well above the presale high estimate of $400,000 and a new auction record for the artist.

According to a report by Lindsay Pollock for Bloomberg, Christie’s had offered a guarantee, which is usually around the low estimate, to the Lawrence estate. The trove was estimated at $44 million-$66 million, and sold for just $19 million.

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

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