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Art Market Watch
Dec. 22, 2005 

ASSORTED MARKET MILESTONES FOR LATE 2005
The art-auction market roared into early November with its big sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art. In the almost two months since then, the auction houses have stayed busy, holding a dense calendar of sales of Latin American Art, American paintings, antiquities, Old Masters, Russian art and more. Herewith, a few of the notable records.

* A horse-drawn, wheeled wicker picnic hamper, commissioned from Asprey by the Metromedia mogul John W. Kluge so he could entertain friends during hunts on his huge Virginia estate, sold for $144,000, well above its presale high estimate of $30,000, at Christie's New York on Dec. 16, 2005. The sale of the "John W. Kluge Morven Collection," as it was called -- "Morven" being the businessman's $45-million, 7,000-plus acre estate, donated in 2001 to the University of Virginia -- totaled $3,247,782 and was 99 percent sold, with 523 of 526 lots finding buyers.

* The Wildenstein Collection Louis XIV ormolu-mounted and boulle brass-inlaid brown tortoiseshell bureau plat ca. 1710, attributed to André-Charles Boulle, sold for £2,920,000 ($5,180,080) (est. £1,500,000-£3,000,000) at Christie's London, Dec. 14-15, 2005. The buyer was third-generation furniture expert Christopher Payne. The two-day sale of the "Wildenstein Collection of Magnificent French Furniture, Objets d'Art and Tapestries" totaled $38,800,502, with 242 of 302 items, or 80 percent, finding buyers. The funds are earmarked for new facilities for the Wildenstein Institute in Paris.

Though a Wildenstein & Co. spokesman said that there was no connection, the sale of the collection has been linked in press reports to a Paris court decision earlier this year commanding the Wildenstein family -- Alec and Guy Wildenstein, sons of the late art dealer Daniel Wildenstein -- to give a share of the family's estimated $10 billion fortune to Daniel Wildenstein's 71-year-old widow, Sylvia. According to press reports, the French Cour d'Appel found that the Wildenstein sons persuaded the widow to sign away her inheritance after Daniel's death in 2001 by telling her that she would face huge tax bills and a possible criminal investigation. In fact, according to the court, Wildenstein pčre had made provisions for any tax liability.

* The Providence Athenaeum copy of John James Audubon's The Birds of America sold for $5,616,000 (est. $5,000,000-$7,000,000) to an anonymous U.S. collector at Christie's New York on Dec. 15, 2005. Buyers of top lots at the $10.6 million sale of printed books and manuscripts included W. Graham Arader III, who paid $156,000 for an 1849 monograph on hummingbirds, and Seth Kaller Inc., who paid $84,000 for an autograph letter by Thomas Jefferson.

* A 14-inch-tall Egyptian brown limestone statue of Ka-nefer and his family, Old Kingdom, Dynasty V, 2465-2323 B.C., complete with an inscription calling him "Overseer of the Craftsmen, Priest of Ptah," sold for $2,816,000 (est. $1,000,000-$1,500,000), a new record for an antiquity, at Christie's New York on Dec. 9, 2005. The buyer was dealer Michael Ward, who purchased the work for the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Tx.

* Bartolomé Esteban Murillo's Christ the Man of Sorrows sold for £2,472,000 ($4,286,448) (est. £500,000 - £700,000), a new auction record for the 17th-century Spanish artist, at Christie's London, Dec. 8, 2005. The buyer was an anonymous British dealer. Christie's evening's auction in London of "Old Master Pictures" totalled £16,554,400 ($28,705,330), with 45 of 53 lots finding buyers, or 85 percent.

Top lot was Peter Paul Rubens' 20-inch-wide oil sketch, Meleager and Atalanta Hunting the Boar, which sold for £3,144,000. Other auction records were set for Naddo Ceccarelli (£1,240,000) and Nicolaes Maes (£792,000). Titian's Portrait of a Lady and her Daughter, which carried a presale estimate of £5,000,000-£8,000,000, went unsold.

* Mary Cassatt's Mother and Two Children (1906) sold for $4,272,000 (est. $3,000,000-$5,000,000), a new auction record for the artist, at Christie's New York on Dec. 1, 2005. The painting was sold by the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, which said the picture was rarely exhibited. Other auction records were set for John F. Kensett ($1,248,000) and John Marin ($1,248,000). The sale of "Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture" totaled $31,757,600, with 110 of 147 lots finding buyers, or 75 percent.

* Sotheby's London sale of Russian art on Dec. 1, 2005, totaled £22,243,600 ($38,445,838), with 302 of 417 lots finding buyers, or 72.4 percent. The total is a record for a sale of Russian art. Top lot was Ilya Mashkov's Still Life with Flowers, which sold for £2,136,000, a record for the artist. Mashkov is a founding member of the Moscow-based avant-garde movement Bubnovy Valet, or "Jack of Diamonds"; the buyer was a Russian collector.

* Christie's sales of "Russian Pictures" and "Russian Works of Art" in London on Nov. 30, 2005, totaled £21,941,320 ($37,695,186), a record for the two combined categories. Approximately 30 percent of the buyers were from Russia, and new auction records were set for 19 artists. Top lot was Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev's Odalisque (1919), which sold for a record £1,688,000 (est. £180,000-£220,000).  Records were also set for Konstantin Andreevich Somov (£1,296,000), Isaak Il'Ich Levitan (£1,240,000), Robert Rafailovich Fal'k (£1,016,000) and Aleksandr Evgen'evich Iakovlev (£624,000).

* Gilbert Stuart's George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait) (1794) sold for $8,136,000 (est. $10,000,000-$15,000,000) at Sotheby's New York on Nov. 30, 2005. Scandalously, the historic painting was being sold by the New York Public Library, which hastened to sell off a total of 16 artworks from its collection, valued at an estimated $22 million-$31 million.

* Sotheby's sale in New York of Latin American Art on Nov. 16, 2005, totaled $15,507,000, with 145 of 188 lots finding buyers, or 77.1 percent. New auction records were set for eight artists, including Cândido Portinari ($940,000) and Jesús Rafael Soto ($419,200). A new record was also set for Los Carpinteros, the Cuban artist collaborative, when a group of eight watercolors sold for $42,000. The sale included four works from MALBA - Coleccion Constantini, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, which totaled $2,516,800.

* Christie's sale in New York of Latin American paintings, Nov. 15-16, 2005, totaled $11,520,160, with 147 of 217 lots finding buyers, or 68 percent. Top lot was Matta's 10 x 32 foot Watchman, What of the Night? (1968), which was consigned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and sold to an anonymous South American collector for $990,400 (est. $500,000-$700,000). The auction also set individual artist records for Cândido Portinari ($721,600), Mira Schendel ($284,800) and Jesús Rafael Soto ($262,400) -- though both the Portinari and Soto records were broken at Sotheby's the following day (see above).

* A carved Yoruba door by Olowe of Ise (ca. 1875-1936), probably carved for Ikéré palace, brought $216,000, at Sotheby's New York on Nov. 11, 2005. The auction totaled $2,233,460.

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auction Report.


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