Christie’s Aims to Lure Chinese Buyers With a $47 Million Restituted Franz Marc Painting at Its Shanghai-London Relay Sale

The auction house hopes deep-pocketed young Chinese buyers interested in Western art will stay on to bid remotely for the London sale.

Franz Marc, The Foxes (1913). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2022.

A rare Franz Marc’s painting, which was recently restituted from a German museum to the heirs of the Jewish collectors who sold it to escape the Nazis, will be headlining Christie’s upcoming London sale of Modern and contemporary art in March. The auction house aims to attract buyers from China with the sale by starting bidding in Shanghai, where Christie’s recently opened a new office and gallery spaces.

Painted in 1913 by Marc, a key figure of German Expressionism, The Foxes (Die Fuchse) is estimated to make around £35 million ($46.8 million, excluding fees), with a third-party guarantee. The expectations nearly double the artist’s current auction records. These were set by Marc’s horse-themed works: Weidende Pferde III (1910), which sold for £12.3 million ($24.4 million, including fees) at Sotheby’s London in 2008, and Drei Pferde (1912), sold a Christie’s London for £15.4 million ($20.4 million) in 2018.

The Foxes, which previously hung in the Kunstpalast museum in Düsseldorf, was restituted last year to the heirs of Kurt Grawi, a Jewish banker, and his wife Else. Grawi had bought the painting in 1928 from Max Leon Flemming, a Hamburg-based art patron and businessman, and it was said to be among the collector’s favorite pieces. Grawi was arrested on Kristallnacht in November 1938, when the Nazi regime committed a wide-ranging pogrom against the Jewish population of Germany, and imprisoned for several weeks in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He and his family fled the country soon after, selling the painting to help pay for their emigration to Chile.

The work then went through a serial change of ownership until 1962, when German entrepreneur and department store owner Helmut Horten gifted the painting to the Düsseldorf City Art Collection.

Grawi’s heirs submitted a claim for restitution to Düsseldorf in 2015, but the city was unsure about the case, since it was not an example of art directly looted by the Nazis but a sale made under duress to escape the country. In March 2021, the Limbach Commission, set up by the German government to investigate the return of cultural property seized by Nazi persecution, recommended that the work be returned to Grawi’s heirs.

The Foxes will travel for viewings in Hong Kong and New York in February, before returning to London for the auction.

Christie’s 20/21 Shanghai to London sales series kicks off on 1 March in Shanghai—the auction house’s first live event in mainland China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic—and continues the same evening in London.

Lucian Freud, <i>Girl with Closed Eyes</i>. Courtesy of Christie's.

Lucian Freud, Girl with Closed Eyes. Courtesy of Christie’s.

Among the other works that will be included in the sales is Lucian Freud’s painting Girl with Closed Eyes (1986-87). Carrying a presale estimate of around £10 million ($13.5 million), the work is coming to auction for the first time.

The auction house has linked the sales in the hope that deep-pocketed young buyers from the China will stick around for the London sale and bid remotely. Sales to Asian clients account for 31 percent of Christie’s global sales last year.

“We have seen significant interest from Asian buyers for major works by the great European avant-gardists of the 20th century, particularly artists such as Picasso, Modigliani and Kandinsky, who was Marc’s great Expressionist collaborator and champion,” said Jussi Pylkkänen, global president of Christie’s.

“Asian collectors react very favorably to works of great rarity and museum importance,” he added. “As a rare icon of Modernism, The Foxes is sure to appeal to leading collectors from around the world—including those clients in China bidding by livestream in our London saleroom, in a world first.”



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