Top Dollar at Sotheby’s £122 Million Impressionist and Modern Evening

A great night for second-bests but no new records in London.

A 1906 painting from Monet’s seminal Water Lilies series led Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale last night, fetching an eye-watering £31,722,500 ($54,071,001), just above its higher presale estimate. It was bagged by a telephone bidder, a client of David Norman, the chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art department, reports Bloomberg. The second highest-earning lot was Piet Mondrian’s 1927 Composition with Red, Blue and Grey, a classic–and new to the market–piece, which realized £15,202,500 ($25,912,661).

This can only be hailed as a success. Only four pieces out of the 46 offered didn’t find a buyer during a boisterous event, which saw collectors from America as well as from Asia and Russia vying for trophy pieces by the likes of Picasso, Kandinsky, and Giacometti. Sotheby’s third best auction in history for the category in London, last night’s sale realized £121,957,000 ($207,875,707), a 15 percent increase over last year. It sold 96.2 percent by value and 91.3 percent by lot.

The sale displays the signs of a recovering, rather than bullish, market. The performance of Monet’s Water Lilies is remarkable, particularly since it failed to sell last time it hit the block at Christie’s four years ago. But although it’s the second highest price ever paid for a Monet at auction, it remains a far cry from the artist’s world record: £40,921,250 ($80,379,591), set at Christie’s London in June 2008, just months before the crash.

Mondrian’s Composition with Red, Blue and Grey is also a second best. Touted as a potential new world record, it fell markedly short of the €21,569,000 ($27,588,897) fetched by Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black (1922) at Christie’s Paris in 2009.

The rather conservative estimates no doubt contributed to the sale’s success, as did the presence of artworks from two significant collections. Seventeen works from the estate of art dealer Jan Krugier, a friend and adviser to the Picasso family, brought in a combined £27,134,500 ($46,120,736.51), led by Kandinsky’s Herbstlandshaft (Autumn Landscape, 1911), which sold for £5,570,500 ($9,494,917).

Two smaller Monet paintings from the collection of the Buffalo Bills founder Ralph C. Wilson Jr, Antibes, vue du plateau Notre Dame (1888) and La Seine à Argenteuil (1875), sold for £7,922,500 ($13,503,901) and £8,538,500 ($14,553,873) respectively, both squarely within their respective presale estimates. Other significant prices were achieved for Picasso’s 1937 Portrait de Femme (£5,346,500/$9,113,109) and Max Beckmann’s 1924 Stilleben mit Grammophon und Schwertlilien (£4,786,500/$8,158,589), but nothing was a real surprise. Sotheby’s might boast healthy results in a recovering market, but a new peak is still miles off.

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