Picasso and Modigliani Lead Sotheby’s $151 Million Impressionist and Modern Sale in London
A star Rodin, however, fails to find any love.
Sotheby’s opened the traditional fortnight of high-profile summer auctions this evening with a trim, 27-lot Impressionist and modern art sale with a pre-sale estimate of £81.25 to £101.4 million ($119 to $149 million). At the end of the night, it had cleared the top hurdle with a £103.3 million ($151 million) total including premium (estimates do not include the premium; sale prices do).
Last year’s sale reached £178.6 million ($262 million) for 42 out of 50 lots offered, landing in the middle of the estimate. But this year, there were no substantial collections on offer, which explained the lower total.
Helena Newman, the department chairman, concurred after the sale that, with the pound falling in value during the closing period of business due to fears of Britain’s exit from the EU, consignments had become more difficult to secure.
Hopes centered around three lots. A cubist Picasso, Femme Assise, from 1909, was a museum-quality work, acquired by the present owner from Sotheby’s in 1973 for £340,000. Now estimated at upwards of £30 million ($42.6 million), it was slow to attract interest but found two bidders relaying bids in minor increments through Amy Capellazzo and Adam Chinn, coincidentally directors of the art advisory team Sotheby’s bought at some expense last winter. Perhaps this was a way of underlining the wisdom of that purchase, as Chinn emerged the winner with a handsome £43.3 million sale ($63.6 million).
Talking with Sotheby’s vice chairman David Norman after this, his last sale with Sotheby’s, I gleaned that the painting had come from an American collection. It had not been acquired by the obvious candidate, famed Cubist collector Leonard Lauder, as he had a very similar work from the same series in his collection.
The other major work in the sale, and the only one carrying a guarantee, was Amedeo Modigliani’s 1919 portrait, Jeanne Hebuterne (au foulard). Estimated at £28 million ($41 million), it was reportedly being sold by the arms dealer, Wafic Said, who bought it at Christie’s in 1986 for £1.9 million.
Modigliani, of course, has touched a chord with today’s superrich, and this painting attracted multiple telephone bids before falling to Sotheby’s senior director of private sales, Sam Valette, for £38.5 million ($56.6 million). Hyping the sale afterwards, Sotheby’s stretched a point, claiming it as a record for a portrait by Modigliani, as opposed to a nude.
The two paintings, said Sotheby’s, were the highest prices on the London market for the last five years.
Making up a third large percentage of the pre-sale value of the sale was a late, life-size cast of Auguste Rodin’s Eve, conceived in 1881 but cast sometime between 1925 and 1940. The estimate, at £8-12 million ($11.7 to 17.6 million), was the highest ever for a posthumously cast Rodin bronze.
The Rodin market would seem to be strong: Sotheby’s had experienced supercharged demand for a lifetime cast of Iris which sold for a record £11.6 million in February, and for a marble of the Eternal Spring which made $20 million in May. As for the fact that tonight’s lot was posthumous, auctions everywhere have been witnessing a gradual erosion of the old prejudice against posthumous casts—in the Rodin market, at least. There was also a rarity factor in that there are 30 known casts in this size, of varying dates, and only five are in private hands.
In the event, none of these factors mattered. Eve was bought in with no bids at £6.2 million ($9.1 million). Simon Stock, a senior director of Sotheby’s, said he thought perhaps the estimate had been a little high, adding that he would probably sell it privately later.
There was some anticipation for an early lot, Georg Scholz’s Nachtlicher Larm (Nightly Noise), 1919, a nightmarish memory of the terror of the First World War with vivid reds and yellows in a jagged, futuristic composition. Scholz has been one of the wunderkind of the art market recently, with prices far exceeding estimatesat Christie’s in February, reaching £1.2 million over a £300,000 low estimate. But this one failed to excite such interest, selling below the £400,000 ($587,000) estimate to Matthew Stephenson of the Pace Gallery for £449,000 ($658,000) including premium.
The strongest bidder in the saleroom was New York’s Acquavella Galleries which bought an 1890 still life by Paul Gauguin just above estimate for £3.4 million ($5 million). The painting had previously been offered in 2001 with an estimate of £2-3 million, but had been unsold.
The gallery’s other purchase was a 1931 constructivist painting by Joaquin Torres-Garcia, last seen at auction in New York in a Latin American sale in 1997 when it sold for an above-estimate $464,500. Nineteen years down the line, it punched its weight, selling above estimate again for £989,000, or $1.5 million.
Making a play for another of the top lots was London dealer, Alon Zakaim, who was outbid on an Edenic Renoir landscape that sold within estimate for £1.3 million, or $1.9 million.
Also outbid was London dealer Alan Hobart of the Pyms gallery, who was going for a full-frontal Schiele nude, which sold to a phone bidder above estimate for £581,000 ($852,000).
This was an unexpectedly solid performance by Sotheby’s given the prognostications of diminishing auction sales and the uncertainties of economic and political events. Auctioneer Helena Newman, taking the rostrum for an evening sale for the first time—the first time a woman had conducted an evening sale of Impressionists since Melanie Clore in 1990—deserved the applause the staff gave her at the end. Clore did not continue in that role for very long, but one suspects that Newman, who clearly relished the job, will do so for a little longer.
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