Sotheby’s Middling Impressionist and Modern Sale Nets $62.8 Million Thanks to a Major Boost From Latin American Treasures

Sotheby's started off the lengthy auction evening on a strong note, but bidding for Impressionist and Modern art was more subdued.

Remedios Varo, Armonía (Autorretrato sugerente) (1956). Image courtesy of Sotheby's
Remedios Varo, Armonía (Autorretrato sugerente) (1956). Image courtesy of Sotheby's

Even though sales categories have become increasingly fluid at major auction houses—whether the blending is organic or the result of a calculated business strategy to streamline categories—it’s hard to ignore how much Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern art evening sale on Monday evening was boosted by a group of Latin American art gems.

Sotheby’s began integrating works from its standalone Latin American sales into other categories, beginning with contemporary art, nearly three years ago. But tonight, as the house concluded its three-part hybrid evening sale with an Impressionist and Modern section that totaled $62.8 million, the utility of that decision was never more clear.

In some cases, the works by artists including Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo had observers more excited than the offerings by traditional blue-chip names, which some grumbled were less than fresh to market and had been offered around privately at decidedly more aggressive estimates.

In the end, the evening Impressionist and Modern sale brought in a healthy total, though it leaned toward the lower end of the overall revised pre-sale estimate of $54.9 million to $77.7 million. Of 26 works on offer (two were withdrawn before the sale), 22, or 85 percent, sold. (Final prices include the buyer’s premium; pre-sale estimates do not.)

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Sleeping Woman (1934). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Sleeping Woman (1934). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Despite the usual star turns by Picasso, whose Tête de femme endormie (1934) scored a within-estimate $11.2 million amid subdued bidding, the sale only began humming during “The Vanguard Spirit,” an 11-work offering that achieved a combined $26.6 million and set five new auction records for Surrealist and Modern art from Latin America.

Following the top-selling Picasso, the second-highest lot was Wifredo Lam’s Omi Obini (1943), which sold for $9.6 million, a new auction record for the artist. (His previous high mark, $5.2 million, was set in 2017.) Lam painted the work after returning to Cuba from Europe in 1941. The artist said of his homecoming that it “meant, above all, a great stimulation of my imagination, as well as the exteriorization of my world.”

The “Vanguard” collection also included seven works by female Surrealists that totaled $13.7 million, led by two oils by Remedios Varo: Armonía (Autorretrato Sugerente) (1956), which brought a new artist record of $6.2 million, and Microcosmos (or Determinismo) (1959), which achieved $1.8 million on an estimate of $1.5 million to $2 million.

Additional auction records for female Surrealists were achieved for Leonor Fini, whose Figures on a Terrace (Composition with Figures on a Terrace; La Terrasse) (1938) sold for $980,000, and Alice Rahon, whose Los Cuatro hijos del arco iris (1960) realized $512,000.

Mario Carreño’s Cortadores de caña (1943) also set a record for the Chilean artist, at $2.7 million.

Oliver Barker in action during Sotheby’s livestreamed sale. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Meanwhile, however, some of the more frequent fliers in the Imp-Mod salesroom failed to ignite fireworks. A relatively subdued Picasso, Femme Assise (1929), with an estimate of $4 million to $6 million, sold for $4.8 million. When it was last offered in 2002 at Sotheby’s London, the work fetched $3.6 million—meaning the new price failed to keep up with inflation. (In 2020 dollars, $3.6 million is equivalent to $5.1 million.)

A landscape painting of Saint Tropez by Paul Signac, Le Pin de Bertaud (1899–1900), which was guaranteed and carried an estimate of $4 million to $6 million, sold for an under-estimate $3.6 million tonight. It had appeared at auction three times previously, most recently in 2017 at Sotheby’s New York, where it carried a third-party guarantee and sold for a premium-inclusive price of $4 million. That means this sale came in at a loss for the consignor. 

Also making its return to the auction block was Alberto Giacometti’s La Cage (conceived circa 1949 and cast in 1990), which last sold in 1999 for $1.05 million. This time around, with an estimate of $2.8 million to $3.5 million, it failed to find a buyer.


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