Frida Kahlo Sets a New Auction Record for Latin American Art—Beating Out Diego Rivera—at Sotheby’s $283 Million Modern Art Evening Sale

Kahlo's 'Diego y Yo' sold for $34.9 million.

Sotheby's evening sale in New York. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

The sales room at Sotheby’s tonight was expecting the Modern art auction’s marquee lot, a portrait by Frida Kahlo, to make headlines with a new high for a female artist—but it set a different record instead.

The stage was set for Kahlo to best Georgia O’Keeffe as the highest-priced female artist at auction, but the painter’s Diego y yo (1949) came in shy of O’Keeffe’s $44.4 million record, and only barely met its low estimate of $30 million thanks to the buyer’s premium. It ultimately sold for $34.9 million to Argentinian collector Eduardo F. Costantini. (Final prices include buyer’s premium unless otherwise noted; pre-sale estimates do not.)

Still, it was a handsome sum for Kahlo, and solidified Diego y yo as the most expensive work of Latin art ever sold at auction—tripling the previous record of $9.8 million, paid for a painting by Kahlo’s partner, Diego Rivera, The Rivals (1931). Though it wasn’t what was expected, the room still felt aglow with admiration for the late Mexican painter’s achievement—and for Latin artists more broadly.

Frida Kahlo, Diego y yo (Diego and I) (1949). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Frida Kahlo, Diego y yo (Diego and I) (1949). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Putting a number of often undervalued women and Latin artists alongside the typical blue-chip European names like Renoir and Monet created a “grab bag” mix, as art advisor Wendy Cromwell put it after the sale, but maybe one with an upside: “I do want to see more female artists in the evening sales, and maybe it’s good that this is one way to do it.” All in all, the sale totaled $283 million, surpassing its pre-sale estimate of $192.2 million to $266.9 million.

The Kahlo record was indicative of a broader shift in the art market’s appetite for Latin art in recent months. Alongside Costantini in the crowd was Gary Nader, one of the most prolific buyers of Latin art from Miami, who looked on as works by Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Armando Reveron, Wilfredo Lam, Remedeos Varos, Matta, and Leonora Carrington sold for some serious chunks of change.

On the top end was Varos’s Les Feuilles mortes (Les heures mortes, El hilo) (1956), which sold for $2.7 million over a $2 million high estimate. Argentinian and Italian painter Leonor Fini’s sensual painting Les Aveugles (1968) blew through its $200,000 to $300,000 estimate, bringing in a total of $867,000. And a Rivera painting saw a hefty return: the bright, geometric still-life Nature morte aux trois citrons jaunes (1916) sold for $3.3 million on an estimate of $1.8 million to $2.5 million.

Throughout the evening, sales were lively. Marc Glimcher bid on at least two of the three Alexander Calder works for sale. A bidding war erupted between Helly Nahmad and a phone bidder from Hong Kong over Pierre August-Renoir’s Jeune file à la Corneille de fleurs (circa 1890), eventually going to Hong Kong for $12.9 million. Meanwhile, art advisor Susanne Dishell scooped up Marc Chagall’s lively and effervescent Bord de fleuve (ca. 1930) for $2.3 million, as well as Lynn Chadwick’s bronze sculpture High Hat Man and High Hat Woman (1968) for $1.6 million.

Claude Monet, Coin du bassin aux nympheas was estimated upwards of $40 million, and hammered at TK

Claude Monet, Coin du bassin aux nympheas, (1918). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sotheby’s Modernism sale without a knockout work by Claude Monet. Tonight, Coin du bassin aux nymphéas (1918) held the highest estimate of the evening (though it wasn’t publicly listed) at over $40 million, ultimately hammering for $50.3 million. My colleague Katya Kazakina reports that he work was sold by investor Ronald Cordover.

For those who want to see this lustrous waterlilies work before it potentially goes into a private collection, it is scheduled to go on view at a Monet and Joan Mitchell exhibition opening next fall at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, or the following year at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. Three other Monet paintings sold this evening as well: Antibes sue de la Salis (1888) for $13.34 million, La Berge à Lavacourt, neige (1879) for $3.05 million, and Saules au soleil couchant (1889) for $9 million.

Pablo Picasso La Chouette

Pablo Picasso, La Chouette , 1953. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

The sale set a handful of new artist records, first with Enrico Donati’s Spaziale Fiorito (1948), going for $867,000 over a $600,000 to $800,000 estimate. The dark, ethereal painting evokes fungi bacteria and other strangely beautiful and unsettling forces of nature. The Italian painter’s previous record was $274,000, just a quarter of the new figure.

The 101-year old artist Pierre Soulages also set an auction record tonight with the sale of Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 4 août 1961 (1961) for $20.14 million, nearly doubling its high estimate of $12 million. The dark geometric abstraction wields a violent red brushstroke, and had been in private hands since 1989.

Meanwhile, a record was also made for none other than Pablo Picasso—at least within the medium of ceramics. La Chouette (1953) raked in $3.9 million on an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million, obliterating the former record for a Picasso ceramic of $2.5 million.

Following the auction house’s blockbuster sale of the Macklowe collection last night—the highest achieving in Sotheby’s history—the auction house seems to be having a pretty good week.

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