The major art auctions of the second half of November appear to demonstrate a continuing segmentation of the global art market by nationality. Growth continues in all areas, in the older categories of American and Latin American as well as in the newer specialty sales of Russian, Chinese and Indian art. And, for what it's worth, a cursory examination of the top lots also shows a strong predisposition towards figurative art.
American Art in New York
Sotheby's New York sale of American art on Nov. 29, 2006, totaled $82.8 million, far in excess of the presale high estimate of $65 million total, with 164 of 219 lots finding buyers, or almost 75 percent. Top lot was Edward Hopper's Hotel Window (1955), which is believed to have been put on the block by entertainer Steve Martin (and owned previously by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and Malcolm Forbes), where it sold for $26.9 million. The price is almost double the $14 million bid for Chair Car (1965) in 2005, which briefly stood as the artist's record until the sale was cancelled in a bankruptcy proceeding.
Another record-breaking lot was Norman Rockwell's Breaking Home Ties (1954), a Saturday Evening Post cover depicting a Depression-era rancher sending his son off to college, which sold for $15.4 million, more than double the presale high estimate of $6 million. The painting recently made news after it was found hidden behind a wall -- the late owner, who had bought the work from the artist in 1960 for $900, had presumably secreted it there during a divorce. The Rockwell auction record was previously $ 9.2 million, set only six months ago.
The buyer of both lots is believed to be Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress and benefactor of the nascent Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark.
Auction records were also set for N.C. Wyeth ($2,032,000), Ernest Lawson ($564,800), William Trost Richards ($520,000), Paul Cadmus ($452,800), Rebecca Salsbury James ($385,600), Charles Dye ($156,000) and Philip Leslie Hale ($156,000).
Christie's New York sale of American art on Nov. 30, 2006, totaled $38 million, with 145 of 168 lots selling, or 86 percent. The top lot was John Singer Sargent's Mildred Carter (1908), a 40 x 30 in. society portrait marked by a virtuoso treatment of the sitter's diaphanous tulle shawl, which sold for $3,936,000, well above the presale high estimate of $2.5 million. Other top lots were by Mary Cassatt, Albert Bierstadt, Norman Rockwell and Marsden Hartley.
Christie's top ten also set new auction records for Archibald Willard ($1,472,000), Grandma Moses ($1,360,000), Jacob Lawrence ($968,000) and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait ($856,000).
Russian Art in London
The biannual "Russian Sale" at Sotheby's London on Nov. 28, 2006, totaled £20,185,040 ($39,136,774), with 282 of 423 lots selling, or 68 percent. According to the auction house, its combined total for Russian art worldwide in 2006 is £82.4 million, £26.1 million more than the 2005 total, which was a record year for the category.
The top lot was a pair of Nicholas I Imperial porcelain vases, which went for £2,248,000 ($4,358,647). Three of the top five lots were paintings, however, and all set new auction records for the artist. Aleksandr E. Yakovlev's Three Women in a Box at the Theater (1918), which the auction house described as "a masterpiece of late Mir Iskusstva art," sold to a private Russian buyer for £1,016,000 ($1,969,922).
Zinaida E. Serebriakova's Reclining Nude (1930) sold for £881,400 ($1,796,334) and Vladimir E. Makovsky's Rest on the Way from Kiev (1888) sold for £624,000 ($1,209,874). Both works were bought by Russian private buyers, the house said. In all, the Russian art sales set 24 auction records.
Christie's London sale of Russian art on Nov. 29, 2006, totaled £18,353,720 ($35,753,046), with 163 of 223 lots selling, or 73 percent. Six of the ten most expensive lots set new auction records for their artists. The top lot was a small (15 x ca. 19 in.) storybook version of a Sleeping Beauty scene titled Pastorale Russe (1922) by Konstantin Andreevich Somov, which sold for £2,696,000 ($5,184,615), rather more than the presale high estimate of £300,000.
In dramatic contrast, stylistically, is another record-setting lot, painted the same year, by Boris Dmitrievich Grigoriev -- The Children (1922), an intense Neue Sachlichkeit-style painting of two kids on a bench, which sold for £960,000 ($1,870,080). Other records were set for Pavel Nikolaevich Filonov (£904,000), Lev Samoilovich Bakst (£624,000) and Il'ia Ivanovich Mashkov (£456,000). The Russian Impressionist At the Market by Abram Efimovich Arkhipov also sold for a record £512,000, more than double the presale high estimate.
Hong Kong sales
For its autumn sales of Asian art, jewelry and watches, Nov. 26-30, 2006, Christie's Hong Kong announced a total of $210 million, which it said was a record for any sales season in Asia, and calculated as a 61 percent share of the market. The total was certainly helped along by the sale of an Imperial famille rose "swallow" bowl of the Qianlong period (1736-1795) from the Robert Chang Collection, for a sum that even the auctioneer called "astonishing" -- $19.8 million.
Once the property of Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton, the porcelain bowl is decorated with paintings of apricot and willow blossoms and a pair of spring swallows. The buyer was Dr. Alice Cheng -- sister to the 80-year-old Hong Kong collector who sold the vase, according to Reuters. Another star lot was a rare Qianlong period white jade libation cup, its outside carved in an intricate landscape scene, which sold for $1.5 million
Christie's Hong Kong sale of 20th-century Chinese art and Asian contemporary art totaled a combined $68 million, with Slave and Lion (1924) by Xu Beihong (1895-1953) selling for $6.9 million after "furious" bidding. Zhang Ziaogang's Tianamen Square sold for $2.3 million, a world auction record for a contemporary Chinese painting. New auction records were also set for Sanyu ($3,801,200), Zao Wou-Ki ($3,218,800), Liao Chi-Ch'un ($2,490,800), Yue Minjun ($962,000) and Zeng Fanzhi ($816,400).
Top lot in Christie's Hong Kong sale of modern and contemporary southeast Asian art was a work by an Indonesian artist, S. Sudjojono (1914-1986), whose Pura Kembarn, Sanur (1972), a painterly scene of a temple courtyard, sold for $481,520, four times its pre-sale estimate and a new world auction record for the artist.
Latin American in New York
Christie's New York sale of Latin American art on Nov. 21, 2006, totaled $21,784,880, with 201 of 271 lots selling, or 74 percent. Top lot was the stately but festive Mujeres con flores (ca. 1938) by Alfredo Ramos Martínez, which sold for $1,808,000, about four times the presale high estimate and a new record for the artist. The sale also set new auction records for Tomas Sánchez ($620,800), Armando Morales ($452,800), Mariano Rodríguez ($354,500), Alfredo Castańeda ($352,000) and five other artists.
Sotheby's New York sale of Latin American art on Nov. 20, 2006, totaled $17,324,000, with 146 of 213 lots finding buyers, or 68.5 percent. Top lot was Fernando Botero's 1989 Jugadoras de Cartas II, which sold for $1,696,000. Other spots in the top ten were occupied by Francisco Zúñiga, Wifredo Lam and Claudio Bravo. An auction record was set for Gunther Gerszo, whose Paisaje (1957) sold for $620,800, well above the presale high estimate of $300,000, to an unnamed Mexican private collector.
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