Sotheby’s Surrealism Sale Fails to Meet Expectations, Pulling in an Under-Estimate $18 Million With Several Blue-Chip Works Going Unsold

The sale was led by Magritte's homage to Vermeer, which sold for $3.2 million.

René Magritte, La Leçon de Musique (1965). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s / ArtDigital Studio.

Sotheby’s second Surrealism evening sale in Paris on March 15 totaled €16.98 million ($18 million), with a sell-through rate of 73.9 percent out of the 23 lots offered, led by blue-chip names including René Magritte, Francis Picabia, and Yves Tanguy, as well as an artist record set for Kurt Seligmann.

However, the sale total for “Surrealism and Its Legacy” was below the lower end of the presale expectations at €19.8 million ($21 million) despite the inclusion of buyer’s fees (presale estimates do not include fees, sale prices do unless otherwise stated) for three guaranteed lots. Several highly anticipated premium lots including Andy Warhol’s 1982 canvas The Two Sisters (After de Chirico), a 1956 painting by Salvador Dalí, and a Lucio Fontana work from 1965 could not find buyers.

Wednesday’s evening sale total was nearly half of the first evening sale of this category in Paris last year, which totaled €32.9 million ($34.89 million). It also offered 23 lots (11 guaranteed lots), but achieved a 95.7 percent sell-through rate.

Yves Tanguy, <i>Les Jeux Nouveaux</i>. courtesy Sotheby’s / ArtDigital Studio.

Yves Tanguy, Les Jeux Nouveaux. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s / ArtDigital Studio.

Sotheby’s explained that substantial difference largely came from last year’s sale of Picabia’s Pavonia (1929) from the artist’s “Transparencies” series, which set an auction record for the artist at €10 million ($11 million). The house maintains its confidence in the French capital’s potential as a key auction market in Europe.

“We saw some strong prices across the sale… together with pockets of deep bidding. We are satisfied with the results especially at such a busy time for the market,” Thomas Bompard, head of sales and vice-president of Sotheby’s France, told Artnet News via email.

Bompard noted that the sale room in Paris has been “flourishing” and the market is becoming more diversified, featuring categories ranging from 20th-century design and decorative arts to wine to NFTs. The market is also becoming more international, with consignments featured in Wednesday’s evening sale coming from private collections around the world, including the U.S., U.K., Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Germany, and France. The sale also attracted interest and bidding from various places, he added.

Kurt Seligmann, <i>The Alchemy of Painting</i>. Courtesy Sotheby’s / ArtDigital Studio.

Kurt Seligmann, The Alchemy of Painting (1955). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s / ArtDigital Studio.

The sale’s top lot was Magritte’s La Leçon de Musique (circa 1965), a guaranteed lot. Painted two years before he died, the work is the only known oil version of the iconic image thought to be a nod to the work of the same name by Vermeer. It sold for €3 million ($3.2 million) within expectations. The sale price was nearly 10 times more than the price realized nearly two decades ago at a Sotheby’s London sale in 2002.

This was followed by Picabia’s Novia (1916), back on the market for the first time in nearly a century. The work sold for €2.2 million ($2.4 million), within expectations. Ed Ruscha’s Eye With Fluid (1968), also a guaranteed premiere lot, sold for €1.7 million ($1.9 million), within expectations.

Tanguy’s Les Jeux Nouveaux (1940) sold for €1.4 million ($1.5 million), slightly above the higher end of the presale expectation. The work had been in the same Parisian private collection since 1980s. The sale set an artist record for Swiss-American Surrealist painter Seligmann, whose The Alchemy of Painting (1955) sold for €317,500 ($340,709).

Wednesday evening also saw the sale of the Robert and Helga Ehret Collection, which featured 51 works by artists from 19th-century Paris to the German avant-garde movement. The sale totaled €3.5 million ($3.8 million).

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