It was a tense few moments about halfway through Christie’s sale of Impressionist and modern art tonight when auctioneer Andreas Rumbler opened the bidding on one of the night’s star lots, Picasso’s 1942 portrait of Dora Maar, at $14 million. Though it was not clear where bids were coming from, Rumbler continued calling out incremental increases. However, at around $19 million, there was utter silence in the room and no bids seemed forthcoming. Just as he was poised to bring down the hammer, and declare the work “passed” or “bought-in,” Chicago dealer Paul Gray, seated in the front of the room near the podium, raised his paddle.
The work went down at a hammer price of $20 million, but that was far shy of the minimum estimate of $25 million. With premium, the final price was $22.6 million.
Several lots later, it was Gray again who raised his paddle to score another star lot, an elegant Femme de Venise IV, one of Alberto Giacometti‘s standing figures (conceived in 1956 and cast in 1957), that was estimated at $10–$18 million. The hammer price was $11.2 million. Including premium, the final price was $12.7 million. The sculpture was last sold at Sotheby’s London in June 2000, when the price was far lower, at $2.8 million (£1.87 million).
The packed sale room consisted of the usual list of major New York dealers, including Robert Mnuchin, his former gallery partner Dominique Levy, and private dealers Christopher Eykyn and Nicholas Maclean. The Nahmad family was in their usual spot near the front of the room, including Helly Nahmad, who was recently sentenced to a year in jail for his role in a high-stakes international gambling ring. But it seemed like business as usual for the Nahmad family, as they jumped into the bidding on several lots. However they didn’t appear to have been successful bidders on anything.
The sale peformed well on the whole, pulling in $285.9 million, compared with an estimate in excess of $245 million. Of 53 lots on offer (one was withdrawn before the sale), 47, or 89 percent, found buyers. By value, the auction was 96 percent sold. By comparison, last year’s sale offered a similar number of lots, 49 in total, and achieved $158 million.
Still, throughout the evening it felt as though buyers were in charge here, often moving extremely slowly when it came to bidding on the top-ticket items, suggesting they thought estimates were too high. Meanwhile there seemed to be more eagerness and movement in the room when it came to a number of the lower priced lots.
The other star lot, a 1907 Claude Monet, Nymphéas, also estimated at $25 million to $35 million, drew more enthusiastic bidding, and eventually sold to a client bidding on the phone with a Christie’s specialist for a hammer price of $24 million. The final price with premium was $27 million.
The Monet was from the estate of Huguette Clark, the ultra-reclusive heir to her father W.A. Clark’s copper fortune. She died in 2011, leaving no heirs. Her life became the focus of tabloid headlines before her death, when local news reports described how she opted to live out her final years in a Manhattan hospital rather than at one of her residences in New York City or Santa Barbara.
Picasso’s Deux femmes et infant seemed to many bidders overpriced at $12–$16 million, especially for such a colorless work, but sold well at $13 million. Christie’s catalogue for the sale notes that the work was painted in 1922, at the apex of the artist’s neoclassical period. Georges Braque’s Le Modèle, a 1939 oil and sand work on canvas, sold for $9 million on an estimate of $8–12 million, the third highest price at auction for his work.
The auction also featured works from the estate of seasoned collector and former Seagrams executive Edgar M. Bronfman. These included a late Picasso painting Mangeuse de pastèque et homme écrivant from 1965. The painting sold for $8 million on a $7–$10 milllion estimate, a sign of the growing collector appreciation for late Picasso works. Also from Bronfman’s colllection was a Monet country scene, L’Escalier (1878), which sold for $3.5 million on an estimate of $1.5–$2 million. Given that Bronfman had acquired the work two decades ago, in 1994, at a Christie’s London sale for $1.7 million (£749,500), the price increase did not seem so substantial.
Other instances of repeat sales proved more lucrative, such as a Joan Miró, Le serpent à coquelicots traînant sur un champ de violettes peuplé par des lézards en deuil (1947), which sold for $12.5 million on a $12–$18 million estimate. Showing just how far the market for Miró along with the broader Impressionist and modern market has come, the work was last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2000 for $2 million on an estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. The work is one of a group of paintings Miró completed between late 1947 and spring of the following year, after he returned from an extended stay in America.
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