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Art Market Watch
June 26, 2006 

June begins, the art world convenes briefly in Basel and then prepares to break for summer. But wait. An art dealer’s job is never done, especially in this superheated art market. Off they go to London, to spend the summer solstice at Sotheby’s and Christie’s June auctions of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art, whose totals these days are within hailing distance of the big May sales in New York. It’s a great time to be an art dealer.

The Impressionist, modern art and contemporary art sales held at Sotheby’s London, June 19-22, 2006, totaled £153,580,000, or about $283,370,000 (all figures include the auction-house premium of 20 percent of the first $200,000 of the hammer price, and 12 percent of the rest). In all, 29 lots sold for over £1,000,000, and 44 lots sold for over $1 million. "We had carefully choreographed the sales in response to the current strength of the market," said Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art chair Melanie Clore, "and we were thrilled to see our efforts so well received."

Top lot was a demure portrait by Amedeo Modigliani of his mistress wearing a black dress and hat, Jeanne Hébuterne (au chapeau) (1919), which sold for £16.3 million ($30.3 million), notably above its £12 million presale high estimate. The work was being sold by Marvin Schein, a director of Henry Schein Inc., a medical products distributor based in Melville, N.Y., that is a member of the Fortune 500.

Schein, who was selling 16 works in all (reportedly because of a divorce), had bought much of his collection at auction in the 1990s; he purchased the Modigliani at Sotheby’s New York in 1997 for about $9.5 million. The London price -- a handsome markup by any measure -- is just shy of the $31,368,000 Modigliani auction record, set in New York in 2004.

Another top lot at Sotheby’s was David Hockney’s The Splash (1966), one of the artist’s classic California swimming pool scenes. It sold for £2,920,000 ($5,407,407), an auction record for the artist. The buyer was the New York art dealing partnership Eykyn Maclean, according to observers in the room. Hockney now joins Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon in the $5 million club.

(As it happens, another work from that year, Hockney’s famous Portrait of Nick Wilder, measuring the same 72 inches square, sold for $2,869,500 in 2002 and then was again put at auction a year later, when it sold for $2,360,000, a drop in price.)

The sales set new auction records for Lyonel Feininger (£4,152,000  / $7,688,888), Bridget Riley (£1,484,000 / $2,192,592), Peter Doig (£1,128,000 / $2,088,888), Anselm Kiefer (£702,400 / $1,200,740), Frank Auerbach (£456,000 / $844,444), Anish Kapoor (£456,000 / $844,444) and Neo Rauch (£456,000 / $844,444). The buyer of the Riley was reported to be New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch.

According to Sotheby’s, 14 percent of the buyers at the evening sale of Impressionist and modern art were Russian, a notable proportion. Forty-four percent of purchasers were from the U.S., while 23 percent were European, 11 percent were British and about eight percent were Asian.

Christie’s London sales of Impressionist, modern, post-war and contemporary art on June 20-22, 2006, totaled £141.5 million, or about $260.7 million, with 32 lots going for more than £1 million and 49 works selling for over $1 million. The house’s June 20 evening sale of Impressionist and modern art, which included German and Austrian art, totaled £86,988,400 ($160,319,621), the highest ever for a sale at Christie's London. Russian clients acquired seven percent of the lots, according to Christie’s auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen.

Top lot was Egon Schiele’s somber Herbstsonne II (Autumn Sun II) (1914), an Expressionist painting of wilted sunflowers that is said to be an homage to Vincent van Gogh. The 39 x 47 in. canvas sold for £11,768,000 ($21,688,424), almost double its presale high estimate of £6 million, to New York dealers Eykyn Maclean. Originally owned by Viennese dealer Karl Grünwald, the Schiele work had been confiscated in 1942 and then disappeared from the public record, only to resurface in France in 2005, after which it was restituted to Grünwald’s heirs.

New auction records were set for Emil Nolde (£2,080,000 / $3,833,440), Óscar Domínguez (£904,000 / $1,666,072), Christian Schad (£456,000 / $844,444) and Josef Dobrowsky (£187,200 / $346,666).

Top lot at Christie’s London’s sale of post-war and contemporary art on June 22 was a previously unseen Francis Bacon triptych, Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1980), which sold to an anonymous collector bidding on the telephone for £3,816,000 ($7,040,520). The price was an auction record for a triptych by the artist, though it fell somewhat below Christie’s £5.5 million presale high estimate for the work.

New records were set for works by Eduardo Chillida (£2,024,000 / $3,748,148), a Gerhard Richter sculpture (£624,000 / $1,151,280), Enzo Cucchi (£568,000 / $1,047,960), Joseph Beuys (£344,000 / $634,680), Antony Gormley (£198,400 / $366,048) and Sarah Lucas (£96,000 / $177,120).

Earlier this season, Phillips, de Pury & Co. started to hold "selling exhibitions" in its spacious showrooms on West 15th Street in Chelsea, shows that weren’t connected with its auctions (a survey of photographs by Mario Testino, for instance). Now, word is that Phillips plans to open an exhibition of works by the contemporary Italian master Enzo Cucchi on Sept. 22, 2006, an effort organized in concert with Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger. Considered something of an anti-commercial artist, Cucchi has not had a major show in New York in some time (though his auction record, as reported above, has now passed $1 million).

Christie’s contemporary art specialist Robert Manley has been promoted to the position of senior vice president and head of post-war and contemporary art evening sales at Christie’s New York. He takes his place in the team that includes Brett Gorvy and Amy Cappellazzo, who jointly head Christie’s international department of post-war and contemporary art.

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