Can Sotheby’s $236 Million May Sale Kickstart Auction Season?

A lot is resting on the upcoming Imp/Mod sale.

Maurice de Vlaminck, Sous-Bois (Paysage), 1905.
Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.
André Derain, <i>Les Voiles rouges</i>, 1906.<br> Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

André Derain, Les Voiles Rouges (1906).
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

As the New York spring auction season looms, Sotheby’s, which is in the midst of a major shakeup, is hoping to demonstrate its staying power.

In recent years, the auction house has outpaced its main rival, Christie’s, in the Impressionist and modern art category, but its upcoming sale May 9 bears a high estimate of just $236 million for 62 lots. If it achieved that high estimate, it would still rank in the lower half of the house’s Impressionist and modern art sales over the last five years. (If it made only its low estimate, of $165 million, it would be in line with the worst sales during that period.)

By comparison, last year’s sale rang up at $368 million, led by a $66.3-million Vincent van Gogh painting. The November 2015 sale of similar material racked up $306.7 million.

Here are the top five lots in the sale, which also includes market standbys like Alberto Giacometti, Claude Monet, and Pablo Picasso.

1. Andre Derain
André Derain’s 1906 painting Les Voiles Rouges (shown above), estimated at up to $20 million, once resided at the Toledo Museum of Art and since then passed through New York gallery Knoedler & Co., which sold the painting in 1951 to Texaco heir Sarah Campbell Blaffer, whose descendants are offering it for sale.

If the painting reaches its high estimate, it will be in record territory. Derain’s Arbres à Collioure (1905) fetched $24.2 million at Sotheby’s London in 2010, according to the artnet Price Database. Painted in London, it represents the commercial boats that were known by the red sails referred to in the title, according to the sale catalogue.

Maurice de Vlaminck, <i>Sous-Bois (Paysage)</i>, 1905.<br> Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

Maurice de Vlaminck, Sous-Bois (Paysage) (1905).
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

2. Maurice de Vlaminck
Tagged at up to $18 million, Maurice de Vlaminck’s brightly hued landscape Sous-Bois (1905) could approach the Fauvist’s current high of $22.5 million, fetched by Paysage de Banlieue (1905) at Christie’s New York in 2011, per artnet’s Price Database. (The canvas is also on offer from Blaffer’s heirs.)

Claude Monet,<i> Camille à l'ombrelle verte</i>, 1876.<br> Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

Claude Monet, Camille à l’ombrelle verte, 1876.
Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

3. Claude Monet
Claude Monet’s Camille à L’Ombrelle Verte (1876), showing his wife in the garden of the family home in Argenteuil, was once in the holdings of Third Reich Marshall Hermann Göring, and was later returned by the French government to the heirs of Alfred Lindon, from whom it had been seized in London.

The seller paid $8.3 million for it at Sotheby’s London in 2007, per artnet’s Price Database. Now, it’s estimated at $9 to $12 million.

Paul Signac, <i>Maisons du Port, Saint-Tropez</i> (1892).<br> Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

Paul Signac, Maisons du Port, Saint-Tropez (1892).
Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

4. Paul Signac
Paul Signac’s Maisons du Port, Saint-Tropez (1892), which the house estimates at up to $12 million, could set a new high for the French painter, whose record stands at $14 million. That price was achieved for Cassis. Cap Canaille (1889) at Christie’s New York in 2007.

The current painting, dominated by the yellow hue of the early morning sun on the port of Saint-Tropez, passed through the hands of famous Russian ballerina Olga Spessivtseva before being sold via Sotheby’s to the family of John Langeloth Loeb, Jr., onetime US ambassador to Denmark, who are offering it for sale after holding onto it for some six decades.

Auguste Rodin, <i>Éternel printemps</i>, 1901-03.<br> Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

Auguste Rodin, Éternel printemps, 1901-03.
Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

5. Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin’s marble sculpture Éternel printemps (1901-03) is estimated at $8 million to $12 million. Measuring just over two feet high, it probably won’t scratch the artist’s current auction high of $19 million, notched at Christie’s New York in 2008 for a sculpture of Eve, per artnet’s Price Database.

Museums such as the Hermitage, in Saint Petersburg, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, have snapped up other examples from the same series, showing a pair of lovers in an embrace.

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