Sotheby’s Raises the Bar With Record-Smashing Sale Led by a $59 Million Klimt

It was the highest total for any auction ever staged in London.

Gustav Klimt, Blumengarten sold at Sotheby’s for about $59 million. Courtesy Sotheby's

Although it was a shorter sale than Christie’s held the evening before, Sotheby’s 54-lot sale of Impressionist, Modern, and Surrealist art last night realized a far more substantial £195 million ($241 million), comfortably above the pre-sale estimated value of £150/180 million. It was the highest total for any single auction in London.

Only 6 lots, or 11 percent, were unsold and 6 lots sold for over $10 million. The sale broke down into £177 million ($219 million) for 35 Imp/Mod lots, estimated at £137/159 million, and £17.7 million ($22 million) for 19 Surrealist lots estimated at £13.3/18 million.

In a sense, this record was expected as eight of the sale’s top lots, accounting for approximately half of the total estimate, were guaranteed either by Sotheby’s or a third party in the shape of an irrevocable bid.

The star lot was Gustav Klimt’s Flower Garden which sold for £48 million ($59.3 million). Sotheby’s had purchased the rare landscape either in part or in whole from the owner, who had acquired it in London in 1994 for £3.7 million. Now estimated in the region of £35 million, it attracted keen bidding from Asia before selling to the winning bid taken by Andrea Jungmann from Sotheby’s office in Vienna—home to several great collections, public and private, that feature Klimt’s work. Jungmann also took the winning bid for a small Klimt portrait which was not guaranteed and more than doubled estimates at £4.3 million. Her buyer for this was the Gustav Klimt Vienna Foundation.

Three of the top lots by Pablo Picasso had irrevocable bids but still attracted competition. A 1944 painting from his tomato plant series made a record for a still life by the artist, selling on the high estimate for £17 million. The telephone buyer, according to the Baerfaxt newsletter, was art advisor Alex Brotmann. A 1953 black-and-white portrait of a seated woman attracted Asian competition before selling above estimate for £12.1 million. Also guaranteed was a shimmering snow scene by Alfred Sisley that set a record £7.3 million ($9 million). It last sold at auction for $2 million in 1995.

Pablo Picasso, <i>Plant de tomates </i> (1944). courtesy Sotheby's

Pablo Picasso, Plant de tomates (1944). courtesy Sotheby’s

The only guaranteed lot to struggle was an Edgar Degas pastel of a woman’s back that had been unsold in the Taubman sale (so with a guarantee) with a $15/25 million estimate. It now sold to a Russian phone bidder below the revised £6/8 million estimate for £5.4 million ($6.7 million).

The sale had started on a strong note when a small cast of Rodin’s Penseur from the late Sir Richard Attenborough’s collection sold for double the low estimate, fetching £1.6 million. The British actor had paid £44,000 for it in 1985. Another Rodin, a reduced size cast of The Kiss, sold to London dealer, Anthony Brown, above estimate for £1.2 million.

There was unrestrained joy in the group sitting with Dutch Old Master dealer, Johnny van Haeften, as he saw off competition from dealer David Juda to buy Theo van Doesburg’s 1924 abstract Contra-Composition V11 just above the low estimate for £1.6 million ($1.9 million).

Theo van Doesburg <i>Contra composition vii</i>. Courtesy Sotheby's

Theo van Doesburg Contra composition vii. Courtesy Sotheby’s

On the one hand they were celebrating because it was an addition to the collection of Dutch Museum De Lakenhal, which is currently celebrating the centenary of de Stijl; and on the other because they had secured it at half the price, in dollar terms, that the painting sold for in New York in 2007, when it fetched the current record for van Doesburg of $4.2 million. The buyer then, now the seller, was presumably less enamored with the outcome.

As the group exited, Naum Gabo’s model for a sculpture in Rotterdam, from 1955, was quietly sold to Christopher Eykyn within estimate for £260,750. The next lot, a black marble form by Alexander Archipenko, sold at the upper estimate for £848,750. The underbidder, Matthew Stephenson, who handles secondary market sales for Pace, then went on to underbid Kirchner’s Four Nudes, which sold within estimate for £5.4 million.

The owner, who had tried unsuccessfully to sell a portrait of the Polish painter Tadeusz Baranowski by Modigliani at Christie’s New York in 2013 with a $25 million low estimate, had to settle for slightly less as it was knocked down, albeit within estimate, to an unidentified bidder in the room for £16 million ($19.8 million). Still, it was a reasonable upgrade on the £4.3 million they bought it for in 1998.

Oskar Kokoschka, <i>Orpheus und Eurydike</i> Courtesy Sotheby's

Oskar Kokoschka, Orpheus und Eurydike Courtesy Sotheby’s

Among the records was Oskar Kokoschka’s Orpheus and Eurydike, which sold to a Swiss-based bidder against competition from Asia for £3.3 million ($4.1 million). The seller bought it in New York in 2010 for $2 million

Without its top lot, a £6 million Salvador Dalí that was withdrawn at the last hour, the Surrealist section felt under par, but was supported by plentiful bidding from dealers Helly Nahmad, Daniella Luxembourg, and Emmanuel Di Donna. There at least, Christie’s could still claim the upper hand.

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