The fall auction season opened with a big bang at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale that scored a sizzling and estimate busting $479.3 million tally.
Eight of the 68 lots offered failed to sell for a trim buy-in rate by lot of 12 percent.
The tally impressively charged past pre-sale expectations of $360-476 million.
It also blasted past last November’s $246.3 million for the 39 lots that sold, a whopping rise of 48.6 percent.
The total represents the second highest price for the house in the Impressionist and Modern category, topped only by the $491.4 million result in November 2006.
Six artist records were set.
Fifty-three of the sixty lots that sold went for over a million dollars and of those, six hurdled the $20 million mark.
In fact, all of the top ten lots exceeded ten million dollars, testifying in part to the bullish and deep-seated strength of this market.
Seventeen lots were backed by third party guarantees, house guarantees or some combination of the two, but by the looks of the intense competition, few got away to those backers.
All prices reported include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium for each lot sold calibrated at 25 percent of the hammer up to and including $250,000, 20 percent of that part of the hammer price over $250,000 and up to and including $4 million and 12.5 percent for anything above that.
Estimates do not include the buyer’s premium.
The evening got off to a jaunty start with a small group of avant garde works from an anonymous European collection, including Henri Laurens’ Cubist styled “La bouteille de Beaune” from 1915-16 in oil on wood that made $1,332,500 (est. $100-150,000) and Man Ray’s remarkably preserved and unique assemblage, “Catherine Barometer” from 1920 that sold to New York art advisor Gabriel Catone of Ruth Catone for $3,252,500 (est. $2-4 million).
The Man Ray last sold at auction at Sotheby’s Parke Bernet Galleries New York in November 1979 for $85,000.
London dealer Offer Waterman was the underbidder on the Laurens.
The high-flyer of the group was Wassily Kandinsky’s color-charged and proto-Abstract composition, “Improvisation mit Pferden (Studie fur Improvisation 20)” from 1911 that sold to a telephone bidder $12,687,500 (est. ($9-12 million).
Kandinsky painted approximately 40 numbered Improvisations between 1909 and 1918.
As the price points quickly climbed higher, Rene Magritte’s stunning Surrealist painting, “L’ empire des lumieres” from 1949, featuring a street lamp lit house and landscape with a bright blue, broad daylight sky overhead, sold in the room to New York private dealer Rick Lapham for a record $20,562,500 (est. $14-18 million).
It was the first of the day for night paintings in the artist’s famed series and was once owned by Nelson A. Rockefeller.
It is understood that the anonymous seller hails from Dubai.
Buttonholed outside the salesroom, Lapham said, “it’s a beautiful painting in beautiful condition and I’m very happy.”
Lapham said he bought it on behalf of an American client.
It was backed by a third party guarantee and was last seen at Frieze Masters in London in 2016 at Dickinson Gallery where the painting was offered but went unsold at a price “above $20 million” in the stand’s themed exhibition, “Surrealist Revolution.”
The hunger in the market for standout Modern works was evident throughout the evening as Fernand Leger’s richly colored and geometric driven composition “Contraste de formes” from 1913 and executed in oil on burlap, shot to a record $70,062,500 (unpublished estimate in the region of $50 million).
It crushed and almost doubled the previous mark set by “La femme en bleu (study)” from 1912-13 that made $39,241,000 at Sotheby’s New York in May 2008.
“It’s an extraordinary work from his best period,” said Jessica Fertig, Christie’s evening sale head of Impressionist and Modern Art shortly after the sale.
Christie’s showed a muscular leg up over arch-rival Sotheby’s with a group of works from the collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass that contributed $143 million to the evening total.
Highlights from the Bass trove included Henri Matisse’s stunning interior scene with a seaside view, “Les regates de Nice” from 1921 that sold to a telephone bidder for $16,625,000 (est. $12-18 million) as well as the evening’s top lot, Vincent van Gogh’s rare to market masterwork, “Laboureur dans un champ” from Saint Remy and painted in early September 1889 that fetched $81,312,500 (unpublished estimate in the region of $50 million).
It came very close to beating the record $82.5 million set by van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” that sold at Christie’s in May 1990 to the Japanese paper magnate Ryoei Saito.
The couple acquired the painting of the sunlit wheat field with a lone ploughman toiling across the furrowed and flower tipped field from storied dealer E.V. Thaw in 1982.
Van Gogh was residing at the asylum of Saint Remy and painted the scene from his bedroom while recovering, at least temporarily, from a tortured episode when he cut off part of his ear.
Another Bass highlight was the large-scaled and effortlessly poetic Joan Miro, “Peinture” from April 1933 that made $23,376,000 (est. $20-25 million).
Though Modern and Post-Impressionist works took most of the action, “Claude Monet’s beautifully serene and atmospheric cover lot, “Matinee sur la Seine” from 1897 sold to New York private dealer Nancy Whyte for $23,376,000 (est. $15-25 million).
Whyte, armed with paddle number 237, also nabbed Emile Nolde’s wildly exuberant “Indische Tanzerin (Indian Dancer)” from 1917 for a record $5,262,500 (est. $2.5-3.5 million) and Paul Cezanne’s petite still life, “Poires dans une assiette blanche from 1879-80 for $6,837,500 (est. $5-7 million).
Though rarely a top ten contender, Edouard Vuillard’s intensely patterned and provocative composition of a storied Parisian literary couple, “Misia et Vallotton a Villeneuve,” executed in oil on board from 1899 and depicting an interior scene featuring the famed beauty, her cuckolded husband and an artist lover, made a record smashing $17,750,000 (est. $7-10 million).
Pablo Picasso also contributed to the embarrassment of visual riches as his large-scaled and Matisse like “Femme accroupie (Jacqueline)” from October 1954, soared to $36,875,000 (est. $20-30 million).
“When real masterpieces come up,” said Max Carter, Christie’s department head of Impressionist and Modern Art, “it transcends the artist’s market.”
That seemed to be the case tonight.
The evening action resumes at Sotheby’s on Tuesday.