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July 7, 2010 

It’s been a sunny spring for the auction houses. In June the sales move east, as if to greet the rising sun, with many of the most important auctions taking place in London and halfway around the globe in Asia. According to Artnet’s signature auction database, during June new auction highs were set for about 230 artists, at $100,000 and up. That’s rather more than May, which notched upwards of 120 new records in this price range.

Many of these top lots have already made headlines -- notably Amedeo Modigliani’s carved limestone Tête (1910-12), which sold at Christie’s Paris on June 14, 2010, for €43,1185,000, or $52 million. How nice that Christie’s -- which practically says in its catalogue note that Modi was really a sculptor, anyway -- has been supercharging the French market, what with the Saint Laurent sales and now this. 

Sotheby’s London scored in its Impressionist and modern sale on June 22, 2010, notching a new record for Édouard Manet with a slightly weedy self-portrait done in 1878, five years before his death ($33.3 million) -- which brought a mere $17 million at auction 13 lucky years ago. According to the provenance listed in the catalogue, and to many published reports, the painting had been owned by casino mogul Steve Wynn, who sold it to hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, who put it up for sale this time.

Two other marquee lots at Sotheby’s London also set new records, a Fauve André Derain once in the inventory of Ambroise Vollard ($24.1 million) and a very interesting Pierre Bonnard interior from 1930, whose title might be translated Breakfast, Radiator ($9.2 million). According to the provenance, this painting spent some time in the Acquavella Galleries inventory.

For contemporary art, the action in new auction records shifted a week later to Christie’s London, whose June 30 sale saw new auction records for Chris Ofili ($2.85 million), Alighiero Boetti ($2.75 million), Glenn Brown ($2.17 million) and Jules de Balincourt ($417,696).

For its part, Sotheby’s London did notch one notable record in the contemporary sphere, selling Bharti Kher’s lifesized model of a prone elephant -- made of fiberglass, but covered with bindis in the artist’s trademark style -- for a whopping $1.49 million. Eighty-plus-year-old British expressionist painter Leon Kossoff also saw a new high, as his King’s Cross, March Afternoon sold for $688,879.

At Phillips de Pury and Co. London, a work by Ugo Rondinone -- one of his sculptures of olive trees, made of aluminum and painted in white enamel, seen in New York at Matthew Marks Gallery in 2004 -- sold for a record $544,248.

But there’s more, so much more.

New records were set for pioneering France-based Indian modernist Sayed Haider Raza ($3.45 million, for a 1932 abstraction, at Christie’s), for Swedish realist Anders Zorn ($3.3 million, for boating scene, at Stockholms Auktionsverk), and for 20th-century Korean modernist Lee Joong-Seop ($2.9 million, for an abstracted painting of a bull, at Seoul Auction).

Also on the list is second-tier Cubist Albert Gleizes ($2.7 million, at Christie’s London in its Impressionist sale), the Soviet Realist Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, the first president of the Leningrad Union of Artists in 1932 ($2.65 million, at Christie’s London Russian art sale), and the 19th-century Russian landscape painter Baron Mikhail Konstantinovich Klodt von Jurgensburg ($1.1 million, also at Christie’s London).

The Swiss painter Cuno Amiet -- briefly a member of the Pont-Aven School in the late 1800s -- had a new record, $1.48 million, for a Winterlandschaft from 1908, at Galerie Kornfeld, as did Carl Fredrik Hill, whose lovely Fruit Tree in Bloom from 1877 sold for $1.18 million at Bukowskis Stockholm.

And we mustn’t forget the great Victorian artist Herbert James Draper, whose record-setting The Sea Maiden (1894) so lasciviously classicises the folk tale of sailors catching a mermaid -- here a simple nude, perhaps a siren -- in their nets. It sold at Christie’s London for $1.38 million.

But a steady, nay, a growing presence in the auction database are the Chinese firms: Poly International Auction Co., Ltd., with salesrooms based in Beijing, and Hosane Auction Co., Ltd., with its headquarters in Shanghai. Our list of new auction records set in June 2010 is quite well populated by lots sold by these two houses.

From Poly International, we have new records for a range of classical artists, including Xu Beihong ($9.86 million, for Riding a Donkey in Spring), Xia Chang ($8.7 million, for Storm over the Xiang River), Xie Zhiliu ($6.7 million, for The Majestic Landscape of China), Zhou Chen ($5.58 million for Watching the Tide) and Du Jin ($2.7 million, for Romantic Garden) -- to name only the first five.

From Hosane, which put newer fare on the block, there is Zhan Wang ($2.87 million, for Artificial Rock No. 116), Xiao Feng ($2.85 million, for Beautiful Scenery of Taihu), Zhou Chunya ($2.24 million, for Peach Blossom), Liu Wei ($1.84 million, for The Wasted Land), Wu Zuoren ($1.73 million, for Zinghai Park of Dalian), Luo Zhongli ($1.67 million, for Combing), Shao Fan ($1.26 million, for Breeze-ruffled Lotus at Quyuan Garden), Ding Yi ($1.26 million, for Appearance of Crosses), Sun Liang ($1.2 million, for Red Leopard) and Ye Yongqing ($1.15 million, for One of the Nine Birdcages in Winter).

That’s a lot of newly released demand! Or something.

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

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