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Art Market Watch
Nov. 7, 2005 

Sotheby’s New York
’s two-day-long, three-catalogue auction of furniture and Fabergé from the collections of Lily and Edmond J. Safra, Nov. 3-4, 2005 [see Decorative Arts Diary, Nov. 1, 2005] totaled $48,969,160 (with premium), with 620 of the 654 lots finding buyers, or 94 percent. 96 lots sold for more than $100,000, and more than half of the items offered for sale exceeded their high presale estimates. 

The sale’s star lot, a gilt-bedecked ebony Louis XVI bureau designed by Joseph Baumhauer, ca. 1770, sold below its presale low estimate of $5 million, going for a still impressive $4,720,000. The second most expensive lot was a large (27 x 11 ft.), 16th-century Safavid animal and tree-patterned carpet that was the subject of a lengthy battle by three telephone bidders, soaring above its presale estimate of $500,000-$700,000 to sell for $2,032,000.

The top Fabergé lot was the gold, gilded silver and translucent enamel desk clock; it sold for $1,248,000, more than four times the presale high estimate of $400,000. The Faberge session totaled $12,901,799, double the presale high estimate of $6.4 million. All the buyers of the top lots remain anonymous.

The first high-profile contemporary art auction conducted in Beijing, put together by the new Forever International Auction Company Limited in cooperation with Christie’s, was a success. Held at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in Beijing on Nov. 3, 2005, the auction totalled RMB 97,019,000, or $12.1 million ("RMB" are "renminbi," or "people’s currency"; one RMB yuan is worth about 12 cents). The sale offered 452 lots, with 364 finding buyers, or 81 percent.

"We are thrilled," said An Li Ping, executive director of Forever, who noted interest from collectors around the world," with a particularly strong presence of buyers from mainland China."

The sale’s top lots are exceptionally decorative, and include Wu Guanzhong’s White Poplar Woods, which sold for RMB 6,720,000 ($832,722), in the middle range of its presale estimate, and Lin Fengmian's Four Beauties which realized RMB 4,704,000 ($582,906), well above its presale high estimate. For details, see Art Market Watch, Oct. 31, 2005.

Christie’s New York has announced plans to reschedule its New York Old Master paintings sale from January to April 6, 2006, a move the house says better balances its two Old Master sales on the calendar (the other is in October). The forthcoming sale features Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio (ca. 1840), the most valuable Old Master painting to be offered at Christie’s New York since Pontormo’s Portrait of a Halberdier sold for $35.2 million in May 1989. The Turner had been on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago for several years, courtesy Chicago collector William Wood Prince and his family, before being donated by an anonymous European collector to the St. Francis of Assisi Foundation in New York, which supports the activities of the Capuchin Order around the world. The painting is expected to go for about $15 million.

At present it seems unlikely that Sotheby’s New York will follow suit with the scheduling change. Sotheby’s Old Master expert George Wachter told the New York Times that the January date allowed dealers to buy stock in advance of the European Art Fair at Maastricht in the Netherlands in March. Sotheby’s January 24, 2005, sale features Michelangelo’s Study of a Male Torso, a black chalk drawing that is expected to sell for around $4 million. In 1976 it sold at auction for £178,200, setting a record for an Old Master drawing.

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