Monet Water Lily Painting Leads Christie’s Dull $141 Million Impressionist Sale

A record-breaking sale of a Frida Kahlo work gave some much-needed excitement.

Claude Monet, Le Bassin auc Nymphéas< (1919). Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Christie’s Impressionist and modern sale on Thursday, May 12 capped a busy week of back-to-back sales which came right on the heels of Frieze Week in New York.

The auction totaled $141 million, just edging over the low end of the $138.3 million to $203.4 million range. Of 51 lots on offer (one was withdrawn), 44, or 86 percent, were sold. By value, the sale brought 89 percent.

Overall auction volume was down considerably this week as talk of a global art market slowdown continues. Tonight, bidding was extremely measured, even for trophy lots. And elsewhere throughout the sale, works were frequently sold on a single bid once they entered reserve-approved territory. (The reserve price is the undisclosed minimum on which a consignor agrees to let a work go.)

This included for the evening’s star lot, the highest priced of the evening, Claude Monet Le bassin aux nymphéas (1919) which carried an estimate of $25 to $35 millon. Though it had changed hands several times over the years after Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie. in Paris acquired it directly from Monet in 1919, this marked its first appearance at auction. At least on a simple size measurement, it seemed to lack the kind of fire or “wallpower” of other Monet paintings in recent years.

Auctioneer Andreas Rumbler opened at $17 million. As the bidding crept up toward $24 million from a bidder in the front row, a Christie’s specialist frantically fumbled to call back a client whose connection may have dropped. With no time to spare, Rumbler joked, “Yes, we will all call this number,” but it was not to be. The work was hammered down to a the bidder in the room who had already proffered $24 million. With premium, the final price was $27 million.

Frida Kahlo, Dos Desnudos en el Bosque (La Tierra Misma) (1939). Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Frida Kahlo, Dos Desnudos en el Bosque (La Tierra Misma) (1939). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

A rarity on the market, and also unusual for a major Impressionist evening sale was the inclusion of Frida Kahlo‘s small-scale Two Nudes in a Forest (1939), a dream-like love scene that has been requested for the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s major upcoming exhibition, “Paint The Revolution.”  It was estimated at $8 to $12 million.

Bidding opened at $5 million but went no further than a single $7 million bid, to land with premium on the low estimate, for $8 million. On a positive note, this marked a new auction record for the artist.

The Kahlo appeared at auction more than 25 years ago, at Christie’s New York, where it sold in 1989 for a mere $506,000, albeit far above the $120,000 to $160,000 estimate.

In the past two decades, only six dozen of her artworks have come to auction. Of these, eight have sold for more than $1 million; the previous record was $5.6 million for Roots (1943), which sold in 2006 at Sotheby’s New York.

Amedeo Modigliani Jeune Femme à la Rose (Margherita) (1916). Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Amedeo Modigliani Jeune Femme à la Rose (Margherita) (1916). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

Yet another expected top lot was a stunning Amedeo Modigliani work, Jeune Femme à la Rose (Margherita) (1916), which carried an estimate of $12 million to $18 million. According to Christie’s catalogue, the painting dates from a pivotal and highly productive moment in the artist’s career, “which saw his mature figurative style…truly emerge.”

Bidding was short and sweet, opening at $7 million and leveling off at $11.2 million, or $12.8 million with premium.

As always, past auction sales provide an interesting track record. According to the artnet Price Database, the same painting had been sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2000, where it fetched a price of $3.2 million, compared with an estimate of $3–4 million.

Claude Monet, Au Petit-Gennevilliers (1874). Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Claude Monet, Au Petit-Gennevilliers (1874). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Another Monet painting, Au Petit-Gennevilliers (1874) came with the illustrious provenance of having been owned by the legendary Havemeyer family. But even with premium included, it sold under estimate, for $11.4 million ($10 million hammer), on an estimate of $12 million to $18 million.

Georges Braque, Mandoline à la partition (Le Banjo), (1941). Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Georges Braque, Mandoline à la partition (Le Banjo), (1941). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

One of the rare moments in the night where a work sparked notable competition happened with Georges Braque‘s Mandoline à partition (Le Banjo) (1941), described by Christie’s as being “among the most formally ambitious and richly colored compositions that Braque created during the war years.” It carried an estimate of $7 million to $9 million, and was chased by at least four bidders, including the Nahmad family of art dealers, who bid as high as $8.3 million.

In the end it was hammered down for $9 million to Conor Jordan, Christie’s Deputy Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art, bidding for a client on the phone. Including premium, the final price was $10.2 million.

Pablo Picasso, Homme Assis (1969), Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Pablo Picasso, Homme Assis (1969). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

The Nahmad family did, however, have more success with the later-period Picasso painting Homme Assis (1969), which they snagged on an under-estimate hammer price of $7 million ($8 million with premium).


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