$81 Million Monet Canvas Leads Christie’s Evening Impressionist Sale

Mega-collector Yusaku Maezawa was also back on the scene tonight.

Claude Monet, Meule (1891). Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

At Christie’s sale of Impressionist and modern art tonight, bidding on a rare Claude Monet haystack painting, Meule (1891), was insatiable, with the work selling for a new artist record of $81.4 million, including premium.

The painting, one of the last such works remaining in private hands, was expected to be a blockbuster, but tonight’s activity exceeded the auction house’s hopes.

After Christie’s auctioneer Andreas Rumbler opened bidding at $35 million and moved up to presumably reserve area territory of $39 million, there was something of a pause in the room, during which the auctioneer insisted: “Someone will buy this painting.”

Then, it was off to the races, with bidding moving up steadily until it was hammered down at $72.5 million to a Christie’s specialist on the phone, after what seemed like an interminable bidding contest.

Unlike other auction bidding wars for seven- eight- and nine -figure masterpieces, this evening’s competition for the Monet was notable for interested parties jumping in and out of the contest at seemingly random price points. For instance, an entirely new bidder emerged at $60 million.

Wassily Kandinsky, Rigide et courbé (1935). Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

Wassily Kandinsky, Rigide et courbé (1935). Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.

Christie’s head of department Brooke Lampley dealt with a phone bidder who had seemingly bowed out earlier, roughly around the $50-million mark, but then jumped back in the bidding when it was above $60 million. This resulted in a certain amount of surprise and uncertainty in the room, but also a new level of excitement about the work. This mystery bidder finally let the work go to a more ambitious phone bidder.

Typically, on such a high-ticket item as this, an initial volley of bids from a wider field, gradually narrows to three, and then two bidders, until one finally relents.

In all, tonight’s sale took in a total of $246.3 million, compared with an estimate of $202 million to $283 million. Of 48 lots on offer (one was withdrawn), 39, or 81 percent, were sold by lot. By value, the auction was 88 percent sold.

Following the sale, dealer David Norman, former head of the Impressionist and modern art department at Sotheby’s, told artnet News: “I really took notice of how lively tonight’s sale was compared to yesterday. People have been perennially fretting that the Impressionist and modern market was going to wither away, but when the quality and prices are aligned these sales perform.”

Another much anticipated lot of tonight’s sale was Wassily Kandinsy’s Rigide et courbe (1934), which sold for $23.2 million with premium, compared with an estimate of $18-24 million. It too was a record for Kandinsky, as it just surpassed the artist’s previous auction high of $23 million, paid for Studie für Improvisation 8 (1909),  sold at Christie’s in November 2012.

Including tonight’s result, four works by the artist have sold for over $20 million each, and nine works have sold for over $10 million.

Private dealer Nicholas Maclean of Eykyn Maclean characterized tonight’s auction as “very solid, very good,” talking to artnet News after the sale.

Maclean, a longtime Christie’s executive, said “the mood is good, and the sale gave a sense of what’s going on.” He noted that the private sale market has been quite robust of late, affording sellers the option of lower risk,  amid broader global and economic uncertainty.

Pablo Picasso, Buste de Femme(1938) Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

Pablo Picasso, Buste de Femme (1938) Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.

Japanese mogul and recent mega-collector Yusaku Maezawa was also back on the scene, buying the third highest lot tonight, the boldly executed Buste de Femme (Dora Maar) (1938), which sold for $22.6 million on an estimate of $18–25 million. This marked the first time the painting appeared at auction.

Maezawa was bidding via phone with Koji Inoue, Christie’s vice president of post-war and contemporary art of Christie’s Americas.

Pablo Picasso, Homme à la pipe. Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Pablo Picasso, Homme à la pipe (1969) Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

Another Picasso, Homme á la pipe (1969), a painting executed more than 30 years after the Dora Maar canvas, sold for $18.4 million, compared with a $15–20 million estimate.

The painting last appeared at auction nearly a decade ago, in 2007, at Sotheby’s New York in November, where it sold for an under-estimate $11.8 million, compared with presale expectations of $12–15 million.

Paul Cezanne, Paysage-avec-route-et-clocher-Île-de-France-près-de-Melun 1879-1880 Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

Paul Cezanne, Paysage-avec-route-et-clocher-Île-de-France-près-de-Melun (1879-1880). Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.

One of the evening’s high-profile casualties was a striking Cezanne landscape of the French countryside, which failed to sell, despite having last appeared at auction more than 30 years ago. The official catalogue estimate was $10-15 million.

After Rumbler opened the bidding at $7 million, it attracted not a single bid, and was “passed,” or unsold, at $9 million.

Chaim Soutine, Le Garcon (circa 1928). Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

Chaim Soutine, Le Garcon (circa 1928). Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.

However, Chaim Soutine’s portrait of a waiter against a midnight blue background, Le Garcon (circa 1928) fared better. It sold for $6.5 million, on an estimate of $6-9 million.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
  • Access the data behind the headlines with the artnet Price Database.