Surrealism Shines at Christie’s $222.8 Million Impressionist and Modern Sale Courtesy Miró and Magritte

See what collectors competed for at a record-breaking evening in London.

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Joan Miró, Painting (Women, Moon, Birds) (1950).
Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2015.
Paul Cézanne, Vue sur L'Estaque et le Château d'If (ca. 1883-1885).
Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2015.
Amedeo Modigliani, Les deux filles, (1918).Photo: courtesy Christie's.
Amedeo Modigliani, Les deux filles, (1918).
Photo: courtesy Christie's.
Alberto Giacometti, Femme de Venise V (conceived in 1956, cast in 1958).
Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2015.
František Kupka, Bleus Mouvants III (ca. 1925–1927 and 1933).
Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2015.
Marc Chagall, Jeune fille au cheval (1927–1929).
Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2015.
Joan Miró, L’Oiseau au plumage déployé vole vers l’arbre argenté (1953).
Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2015.
Roberto Matta, The Red Sun (1938).
Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2015.

There is clearly real strength in the Impressionist and Modern art market. Last night, Christie’s emulated Sotheby’s success the evening before with a £147 million ($222.8 million) sale, which exceeded estimates of £92.8–133.8 million, and in which 88 percent of the 80 lots offered were sold. Bidders from 35 different countries took part.

It was the third-highest total for Christie’s Impressionist department in London and the best sell-through rate ever for the house. As at Sotheby’s, the sale fell into two parts: 44 lots of Impressionist and Modern art, estimated at £55.9–80.3 million, which made £80.3 million including buyers’ premium, and a Surrealist art section of 36 lots, estimated at £36.9–53.5 million which far outperformed that of Sotheby’s, making £66.7 million including buyers’ premium and setting a record for a surrealist sale.

The sale set off at a cracking pace as a small cubistic gouache, Le Guerídon (1920) by Picasso saw 18 telephone bids as well as bidders in the room such as Marc Blondeau and David Breuer-Weil in contest as it sold for a treble-estimate £578,500 ($868,329).

In contrast to Sotheby’s dozen, there were only two guaranteed lots in Christie’s sale and they were not high value (see Guarantees Spur Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Sale to Record £186.4 Million).  A Pissarro landscape sold within estimate for £2 million ($3 million). And a rare 1925 relief by Jean Arp, Balcon I, that had been acquired in 2012 for a triple-estimate £1.5 million, came back with a higher estimate of £900,000–1.2 million last night to make exactly the same price, £1.5 million ($2.3 million).

Much more rested on the performance of the star lot, Cezanne’s Vue sur L’Estaque et le Château d’If (c. 1883–1885), from the Samuel Courtauld collection. The estimate of £8–12 million ($13–19 million) compared with an auction record of $60 million for a Cezanne still life and $38.5 million for a landscape. So, in spite of the elite provenance, it wasn’t considered top drawer. But with Cezannes hard to find, there were at least four bidders on it, before it fell for £13.5 million ($20.5 million) to US advisor, Nancy Whyte who outbid dealer, Bill Acquavella, sitting right behind her.

Christie’s had three Giacometti sculptures in the evening sale and one in the day sale; all sold. The top seller was a 43-inch cast of his elongated bronze Femme de Venise V, which had been acquired in 2010 for $10.3 million (£6.4 million) by Belgian collector Pierre Salik and was part a major consignment he made to Christie’s. The price was a somewhat disappointing £6.8 million ($10.3 million)—exactly what he paid for it. There was more competition for the artist’s small Tête de Diego sur socle from a different collection, which had never been on the market. Estimated at £1–1.5 million, it sold to collector Dimitri Mavrommatis, bidding against London dealer, Simon Theobald, for £3 million ($4.5 million).

Also from Salik’s collection was an unusual Modigliani double portrait, Les deux filles (1918), which he bought in 2009 above estimate for £6.5 million. Now estimated slightly higher than before at £6–8 million, it sold for £7.6 million ($11.5 million), with a little help from some Asian underbidding.

Lower down the price scale, German art looked strong. There was a record £2.2 million ($4.5 million) for a 1910 painting by Eric Heckel, and for a work on paper by Franz Marc when his 1913 gouache, Springendes Pferd, which had fetched a record £936,500 when last sold in 1997, now brought £2.5 million ($3.8 million), selling to a German telephone bidder against Theobald in the room. Having also been the underbidder on a £4.6 million Gris, Theobald got a special thanks from auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen on his way out.

But it was the surrealist section of the sale, which really stood out. Billed as “the strongest and most valuable auction of surrealist art to be offered at auction to date,” it certainly delivered as promised.

One of the main contributors as a seller, once again, was Pierre Salik. Now in his 80s, Salik is having a bit of a clear out, having sold his Francis Bacon Pope painting at Christie’s in New York last November for $45 million. In addition to four lots in the Impressionist and Modern section, he was also selling 12 surrealists with a combined low estimate of £21 million. Ten sold for £27.6 million.

Of these, the outstanding result was for Rene Magritte’s gouache, Souvenir de Voyage, which quadrupled estimates to sell for £2.7 million ($4 million) to US art advisor, Abigail Asher. The result is a record for a work on paper by the artist. The top selling surrealist lot from Salik’s collection was Miro’s oil painting, L’Oiseau au plumage déployé vole vers l’arbre argenté (1953), which he had acquired in 2006, within estimate, for £5.2 million. The Miro market has come on a bit since then, and, estimated at £7–9 million, the painting sold to an American phone bidder for an emphatic £9.2 million ($13.9 million).

However, this was unexpectedly trumped by another 1950s Miro, Painting (Women, Moon, Birds), which was pursued by dealers, David Nahmad and William Acquavella (in competition) before selling far above the £4–7 million estimate to Sotheby’s Tel Aviv representative for £15.5 million ($23.5 million)—a record for a 1950s work by Miro. This painting was one of seven surrealist works from a different European collection that had been formed in the 1950s and 1960s, which all sold, adding £31 million to the pot. Yet another 1950s Miro (something is definitely happening here), L’Oiseau s’envole vers la zone où le duvet pousse sur les collines encerclées d’or was estimated at £2–3 million and was also pursued by Nahmad and Acquavella before selling on the phone for £5.7 million ($8.6 million).

A notable feature of the surrealist sale was the number of Asian bidders involved. Works by Ernst, Magritte, and Delvaux were all pursued by Asian bidders, which is a new development, according to Christie’s top surrealist expert, Olivier Camu.

Russian bidding on the night, though, was more subdued than in the past. One Russian phone bidder paid a hefty £5.9 million ($8.9 million) against a £2.2–2.8 million estimate for a 1920s Chagall painting, Jeune fille au cheval, of floating figures against a typical Russian townscape. But Russian support for one time favourite, Paul Delvaux, was clearly missing when the top Delvaux of the sale, Le Bout du Monde, featuring five topless maidens, failed to sell.

One just wonders how these sales would have performed had the Russians been out in force.


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