Sotheby’s Emily Fisher Landau Sale Is Most Valuable Ever for a Female Collector, Nets $406 Million

An Agnes Martin set an artist's record for $18.7 million.

Sotheby's employees take phone bids at Sotheby's auction of Emily Fisher Landau collection on November 8, 2023. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP)

Over 102 years of life, noted art patron Emily Fisher Landau acquired around 1,200 works of art. Sotheby’s presented 31 of them during an evening auction on November 8 that managed sturdy results amid a precarious time for the art market. The sale will later be complimented by a day sale of another 82 works from the esteemed collection.

While last night’s auction at Christie’s reminded us that the choppy waters of the art market this summer and fall have not exactly calmed, this has been a markedly more stable period for single-owner sales, as indicated by the recent London auction season (you’ll recall that the Sam Josefowitz collection accounted for $63.2 million of Christies’ net earnings this season across the pond.)

The white-glove Fisher Landau sale continued this trend, netting out as the most valuable auction dedicated to a female collector in auction history, bringing in $406.4 million. Its pre-sale estimate was $344.5 million to $430.1 million. 

The most anticipated lot of the evening was Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la montre, a canonical cubist portrait of his muse Marie-Thérèse Walter from 1932 from the artist’s annus mirabilis. The piece was estimated to sell “in excess of $120 million,” and had remained in Landau’s collection since 1968, when she acquired it from Pace Gallery in New York.

Femme à la montre was teed up to perhaps become the most expensive Picasso work ever sold at auction, but came in short at $139 million, making it the second-most expensive piece by the modernist master to ever trade via the auction block (the current record still stands at $179 million). That said, Femme à la montre still achieved the highest sales price of any work to come to auction all year.  

Jasper Johns, Flags, 1986. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

While the Picasso’s fate may have been a bit deflating to the mood, Agnes Martin became the star of the show—her moody, gold leaf-speckled minimalist abstraction Grey Stone II sold to French art dealer and collector Phillipe Ségalot for $18.7 million, which tripled its low estimate of $6 million, and trumped her previous auction record of $17.7 million for Untitled #44 | 《無題 #44》(1974).  

Meanwhile, Mark Tansey set his personal record for Triumph Over Mastery II, at $11.8 million, surpassing his previous record of $7.5 million for SOURCE OF THE LOU (1988). And a record was set for one of 26 flag pieces created by Jasper Johns for a 1986 piece titled Flags which went for a healthy $41 million on its estimate of $35 million to $45 million. 

The audience was replete with engaged dealers: Dominique Lévy with business partner Amalia Dayan, Amy Cappelazzo, Loic Gouzer, Larry Gagosian, to name a few. Outside of the room and over the phones, Asia-based bidders were making their presence known, most notably with an untitled chalkboard work by Cy Twombly, which went to a collector in Asia for $26.76 million. 

Another high point of the evening was the sale of three works by Ed Ruscha, who has a career retrospective a few streets over at the Museum of Modern Art and was a personal favorite of Landau. Securing the Last Letter (Boss) sold for $39.4 million, coming in dead center of its $35 million to $45 million estimate. Another text-based painting, Mint (Green), surpassed its high estimate of $10 million, netting $12.9 million, and another painting with his American flag motif, Ruscha’s Plenty Big Hotel Room (Painting for the American Indian), was estimated for $5 million to $7 million and sold for $6.1 million. 

Landau, who famously used the settlement from a jewelry heist out of her own home to kickstart her own art collection, stares off defiantly into the distance in Warhol’s regal looking rendering of her. The piece sold for just over half a million dollars, reminding those in the room before they took off for the evening of her famous ethos on collecting: “If a person is a true collector, nothing will stop them from getting what they want.”


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