Modigliani’s Portrait of Paulette Jourdain Leads Sotheby’s $377 Million Taubman Sale
The sale saw restrained bidding and only a few star lots.
Sotheby’s kicked off the evening auctions for the fall season on the evening of November 4 with a 77-lot sale entitled “Masterworks” featuring the best of the 500-lot collection of the auction house’s former chairman A. Alfred Taubman, who died earlier this year.
In all, the sale realized $377 million, a sum on the low end of its presale expectations of $374.8 million–526.5 million. Of the lots offered, 69, or 90 percent, found buyers.
Not long ago that sale sum might have been an entire Impressionist season for an auction house. Now it represents a single evening. (On November 5, Sotheby’s followed up with a $306 million modern and Impressionist sale.) Still, it was clear that estimates were too bullish on numerous lots as bidding appeared sluggish throughout the evening and several artworks—including some of the expected highlights—were hammered down for prices well below their low estimates.
A prime example of this was Picasso’s Femme assise sur une chaise (1938), on which the estimated $25 million–35 million felt stratospheric compared with the lackluster bidding in the room. Auctioneer Oliver Barker opened the bidding at around $14.5 million and several ensuing bids bumped it up to $17 million, at which point interest seemed to stall completely. In an effort to coax out interested parties, Barker stated it was “selling” at that price, an indication that the reserve level had been met.
This appeared to prompt momentary interest from Giancarlo Giammetti and his partner, fashion designer and art collector Valentino Garavani, who were seated together in Sotheby’s front row. However, when bidding crept up from $17.5 million to $17.7 million, Giammetti immediately opted out. With premium, the final price was $20 million, missing the low estimate by $5 million.
Similar restraint was seen in the action for Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXI (1976), also estimated at $25 million–35 million. With bidding opened at $14 million it narrowed to a lackluster two-way bidding contest between two Sotheby’s specialists on the phone with their respective clients before being hammered down to one for $22 million. The final price, with premium, was $24.9 million.
Another star lot, Amedeo Modigliani’s Portrait de Paulette Jourdain (circa 1919), fared far better on its estimated $25 million–35 million and garnered the highest price of the night. Having started at $17 million, it drew a volley of bids from all over the room before being hammered down for $38 million, or $42.8 million with premium.
The sale featured two Mark Rothko works, both estimated at $20–30 million. Including premium, Untitled (Lavender and Green) (1952) squeaked by the low estimate to sell for $20.4 million. Meanwhile, No.6/ Sienna, Orange on Wine (1962) fell even more flat with a final price of $17.6 million.
On a brighter note, a new record was easily set for Frank Stella, the subject of a just-opened and much-buzzed-about retrospective at the Whitney Museum. Delaware Crossing (1961) had only to meet the low $8 million estimate, which it did handily, drawing active bidding from numerous Sotheby’s specialists on behalf of their clients before taking $12 million, or $13.7 million with premium. The previous Stella auction high was $6.6 million, set at Christie’s just over a year ago.
At the beginning of the sale, recently appointed Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith briefly addressed the packed saleroom, telling the crowd—on a bittersweet note—that Taubman had once expressed a wish that he live to see his collection auctioned. Smith also mentioned—perhaps to counter recent media reports exposing tension between Taubman’s three children from a previous marriage, and their stepmorther, Taubman’s wife Judy—that all of the children, and Judy herself, were in the room tonight.
We spotted Judy in a skybox carefully following the action in the auction room, along with some former Sotheby’s execs, but not the children. Based on the recent reports of squabbles over artwork, we assume the Taubman children opted for their own skybox.
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