Christie’s Chunky, Picasso Filled Night

Pablo Picasso’s “Mousquetaire et nu assis” from 1967, depicting the goateed, costumed and swaggering rake alongside a voluptuous nude sold to Gurr Johns for £13,733,760/$19,172,315 (est. £12-18 million).

Led by a rich array of Pablo Picasso paintings, Christie’s London Impressionist & Modern and the Art of the Surreal evening auction brought a chunky and market affirming £149,592,750/$208,831,479.

Twenty of the 97 lots offered failed to sell for an almost decent buy-in rate by lot of 22 percent.

The tally ran towards the high side of the combined pre-sale estimate of £111.8-166.8/ $156-$232.9 million.

The sale topped last February’s £136.8/$169.9 million by nine percent for the 77 lots that sold and led by Paul Gauguin’s “Te Fare (La maison)” from 1892 that fetched £20.3/$25.2 million..

Thirty-one of the 76 lots that sold tonight went for over a million pounds & of those, nine made over £5 million. Dollar wise, 38 sold for over a million dollars and of those made over $5 million.

Three artist records were set by Georges Vantongerloo, Antoine Pevsner and Roland Penrose.

All prices reported sold include the hammer price plus the tacked on buyer’s premium calculated at 25 percent up to and including £175,000, 20 percent on that price of the hammer price over £175,000 and up to and including £3 million and 12.5 percent for anything above £3 million.

The hammer tally (before fees) was £126,735,000.

The evening started off with a bang as Pablo Picasso’s cheerful ‘Nature morte devant une fenetre” from 1919 in gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper hit £2,048,750/$2,860,055 (est. £500-800,000).

Remarkably, the buyer, identified by paddle number 137 went on to win five other Picasso’s during the marathon, two and one half hour evening. It is understood that paddle belonged to Harry Smith, chairman and managing director of Gurr Johns, the international art advisory firm.

A color-charged and geometric Fernand Leger, “L’usine or Motif pour le moteur,” also from 1919 in oil on board raced to £1,928,750/$2,692,535 (est. £900,000-1.2 million).

Both works and others hailed from a rarified group identified by Christie’s as “Eye of the Architect” – Property from a Private European Collection that overall tallied £18.4/$25.6 million.

Giorgio Morandi, “Natura morta” from 1957 brought £1,064,750/$1,486,391 (est. £400-600,000)

Among that mix, three pristine still lives by Giorgio Morandi sold, including the meditative and shadowed “Natura morta” from 1957 brought £1,064,750/$1,486,391 (est. £400-600,000).

It last sold at auction at Christie’s London in June 1972 for £18,900.

The Picasso gauntlet continued with thickly textured still life, “Le coq saigne
from 1947/48, executed in oil on panel and sold from the collection of the late and fellow Spanish artist Antoni Tapies that realized an estimate busting £5,521,250/$7,707,665 (est. £2.2-2-8 million), another paddle 137 prize.

Pablo Picasso’s “Le coq saigne” from 1947/48

In a kind of chronological cavalcade, Jacqueline Roquet, Picasso’s dark haired muse, “Femme se coffant” from 1956 sold to the same buyer for £6,758,750/$9,436,215 (est. £2.5-3.5 million).

It last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2006 for $3,376,000.

The evening top lot and front cover offering,  Picasso’s decidedly erotic and late composition, “Mousquetaire et nu assis” from 1967, depicting the goateed, costumed and swaggering rake alongside a voluptuous nude sold to Gurr Johns for £13,733,760/$19,172,315 (est. £12-18 million).

It was backed by a third party guarantee and appeared to attract two bidders.

It last sold at auction at Christie’s London in June 2007 for £6.7 million, making a rather nice return for the seller.

Taking a brief break from the Picasso scoreboard, a dynamic, futuristic, proto Jasper Johns work by Francis Picabia, “Sans titre (Pot de fleurs)” from 1925 and comprised of paint can lids, stretcher keys, quill toothpicks and paint brushes on canvas, made a sizzling £3,008,750/$4,200,215 (est. £900,000-1.2 million).

Francis Picabia, “Sans titre (Pot de fleurs)” from 1925

It was featured in the recent Museum of Modern Art retrospective, “Francis Picabia: Our Heads are Round so Our Thoughts can Change Direction.”

In the relatively quiet Impressionist Art sector, Edgar Degas’s delicately masterful “Dans les coulisses” from circa 1882-85, depicting a stage wing view of the Paris Opera and executed in pastel on linen canvas, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for £8,993,750/$12,555,275 (est. £8-12 million).

It was backed by a third party guarantee and apparently needed it to squeak by at the £8 million hammer price.

It last sold in Paris at Drouot Montaigne in November 1997 for the pre-Euro price of 25 million French Francs.

Two lush landscapes by Claude Monet made the top ten list, led by “Prairie a Giverny” from 1885 that brought £7,546,250/$10,534,565, a painting that had been on long term loan to the Scottish National Gallery of Art from 1992-2017 and the pre-Giverny and more cinematic and widely exhibited “Vetheuil” from 1879 that sold for the identical price of £7,546,250/$10,534,565.

Claude Monet’s “Prairie a Giverny” from 1885 that brought £7,546,250/$10,534,565, a painting that had been on long term loan to the Scottish National Gallery of Art from 1992-2017

“Prairie” was purchased from London dealers Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd. In 1951 for £2,485.

One of the big disappointments of the evening was the buy-in of Gustave Caillebotte’s superb Parisian scene, “Le pont de l’Europe -Etude partielle,” depicting a lone man lost in thought, his elbow resting on the iron bridge railing.

It bought in at a chandelier bid £1.4 million. It last soldat Artcurial in Paris in December 2013 for €1,831,890.

At times, the market is hard to figure.

Pablo Picasso’s “Figure” from 1930

The Surrealist portion of the evening, the separate catalogue Art of the Surreal was led by yet another Picasso, the monumental looking “Figure” from 1930 that realized £8,333,750/$11,633,915 (est. £3-5 million), selling to an Asian based telephone bidder.

It had not been offered at auction since 1972 and the multiple cast of bidders apparently appreciated its freshness to the market.

Belgian Surrealist master Rene Magritte’s early 1926 composition, “Le groupe silencieux,” featuring a pink hued room with wildly inserted landscape motifs” fetched £7,208,750/$10,063,415 (est. £6.5-9.5 million).

It was last exhibited at Fondation Beyeler Magritte retrospective in 2005.

Clearly, Modernism and avant gard works took the majority of the cake as evidenced by the stunning and early Wassily Kandinsky radical landscape, “Studie fur Landschaft (Dunaberg)” from 1910 that was housed in a European collection for some fifty years and that sold to a telephone bidder for a rocking £6,758,750/$9,435,215 (est. £3-5 million).

Rene Magritte’s early 1926 composition, “Le groupe silencieux”

Asked about the surfeit of Picasso kit, and its overall stellar performance that helped drive the evening to the highest tally for a February sale in its category since 2014, Keith Gill, Christie’s Impressionist & Modern head of evening sale, noted, “Picasso is absolutely the most renowned of the 20th Century artists and has the broadest international appeal.”

The evening action resumes at Sotheby’s on Wednesday.

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