Christie’s London Season Opener Brings Solid Results Without a Big Bang
Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Le potager, signed and dated 'Sisley. 72' (lower left), oil on canvas, 19 ¾ x 25 7/8 in. (50.2 x 65.7 cm.), Painted in 1872, Estimate: £1,500,000 - 2,000,000

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Le potager, signed and dated ‘Sisley. 72’ (lower left), oil on canvas, 19 ¾ x 25 7/8 in. (50.2 x 65.7 cm.), Painted in 1872, Estimate: £1,500,000 – 2,000,000

The London auction season opened at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sale Tuesday evening with solid results, though art market fire works were missing due to a lack of standout offerings. The sale tallied £71,461,000/$112,908,380.

Of the 50 lots offered, eight failed to sell for a decent buy-in rate by lot of 16 percent. The tally hit midway pre-sale target expectations of £58.7-85.25/$92.7-134.7 million and trailed last June’s £85,784,000/$146,004,000 result for the 40 sold lots. Twenty-four lots sold for over a million pounds and 29 sold for over a million dollars. Of those, one exceeded £10 million. (Prices reported reflect the hammer price plus buyer’s premium for each lot sold, calculated at 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including £50,000, 20 percent on that part of the hammer price up to and including £1 million, and 12 percent of that part of the hammer price above £1 million.)

The sale kicked off with a petite Pablo Picasso table-top still life, “Verre et Radis” from 1944, which sold to a telephone bidder for £362,500/$576,013 (est. £250-350,000). The Picasso was quickly followed by Egon Schiele’s pretty, curly haired subject “Madchenkopf (Frau Sohn)” from 1918, in charcoal on paper, which made £662,500/$1,052,713 (est. £400-600,000). The Schiele last sold at Christie’s London in June 2007 for £412,000.

Continuing on the works on paper front, Paul Cezanne’s page-sized still life “Oranges et Verre (recto); le fils de Cezanne (verso),” in watercolor and pencil on paper from circa 1900, made £1,650,500/$2,622,645 (est. £1-1.5 million). Similarly, Vincent van Gogh’s early and Dutch flavored “The ‘Laakmolen’ near The Hague,” a watercolor and pencil and pen and ink on paper laid down on panel from July 1882, sold to another telephone bidder for £2,322,500/$3,669,550 (est. £2-3 million).

Four Surrealist flavored Rene Magritte gouache on paper offerings, representing a robust slice of his heated market, sold like hot cakes, led by “Le Basier” from circa 1957, depicting a blue bodied dove in flight over a shadowed beach with a crescent moon and stars occupying her extended wingspan — it realized £1,986,500/$3,156,549 (est. £1.2-1.8 million). The work last sold at Christie’s London in February 2010 for £1,217,250, not exactly an inflation fighter.

Another Surrealist highlight, Salvador Dali’s fantastical “Chevauchee celeste” from 1957, depicting a stilt walking rhino with a nude woman rider and baseball game televised on its armored hide, attracted a trio of bidders and sold to the telephone for £2,882,500/$4,580,293 (est. £2-3 million). It last sold at Christie’s London in June 2010 for £2,169,250.

Of the bare handful of prime, Impressionist era offerings, Alfred Sisley’s beautifully shadowed summer garden, “Le Potager” from 1872, originally acquired by Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris in 1890 and later exhibited as part of a Sisley solo at its New York outpost in 1914, sold to London dealer James Roundell of Dickinson Gallery for £2,210,500/$3,512,485 (est. £1.5-2 million).

A charming domestic scene, Camille Pissarro’s watchful “La servant assise dans le jardin d’Eragny” from 1884, depicting two of the artist’s eight children minded by a nearby nanny, brought £1,762,500/$2,800,613 (est. £1.6-2.2 million). The painting was backed by a third party guarantee and represents a settlement between the seller and the heirs of the previous owner, storied art dealer and French Resistance fighter Rene Gimpel, who perished in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. It last sold at auction at Christie’s London in June 1990 at the height of that era’s art market bubble, for £1,650,000.

The modest evening offerings were led by the cover lot, Claude Monet’s “Iris mauves” from 1914-17, a grandly scaled (78 7/8 by 39 1/2 inches) vertical format composition stamped (not signed) with the artist’s signature. It sold to a telephone bidder for the top lot price of £10,834,500/$17,216,021 (est. £6-9 million). It is one of some 20 views of irises Monet painted that flanked the banks of his beloved lily pond and was included in the traveling exhibition “Monet’s Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism,” which landed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978. The picture last sold at Christie’s New York in May 1997 for $3,852,500. Telephone bidders from America, Asia, and Russia chased the big painting, according to Christie’s.

Lesser examples by great French painters of the 19th century was evidenced by Paul Gauguin’s slumbering Tahitian picture “Le reve, Moe Moea” from 1892, which sold over estimate for £1,930,500/$3,050,190 (est. £1-1.5 million). That qualitative difference was evident if you saw the ongoing and spectacular Gauguin exhibition at Fondation Beyeler, where an assortment of potential $100 million and beyond masterpieces are on view.

A sensual but rather awkward rear view captured by Edgar Degas, “Apres le bain, femme s’essuyant la jambe (le peignoir rouge),” executed in pastel on paper from circa 1893, realized £2,882,500/$4,580,293 (est. £2.5-3.5 million). It last sold in the auction rooms at Hotel Drouot in Paris in June 1993 for the pre-Euro price of FF 2,650,000, today’s equivalent of roughly £290,000.

In a more racy view, Kees van Dongen’s provocative harem figure encased in a gauzy veil, “Anita en almee” from 1908, sold for £4,114,500/$6,537,941 (est. £4-7 million). The Fauve period oil last sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 1995 for $1,652,500. According to the symbol printed in the catalogue, the painting was owned and offered by Christie’s.

A handsome array of sculpture was also on offer, as Henry Moore’s bronze “Reclining Figure No. 2” from 1953 and cast in an edition of seven, once in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, brought £1,538,500/$2,444,677 (est. £900,000-1.2 million). It carried a Christie’s financial guarantee.

In that same bronze vein, Joan Miro’s grandly scaled, 86 5/8 inch high “Tete” from 1974 and cast from an edition of four, sold to the Nahmad family of dealers for £350,500/$556,945 (est. £400-600,000). Miro’s impressive, poetically titled “La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune (The stem of the red flower grows toward the Moon),” from 1953, drew heated bidding and made £3,778,500/$6,004,037 (est. £3.5-4.5 million). The symbol-laden picture also bristles with more expressive elements of the Abstract Expressionist era that was roaring in New York when the painting was first exhibited as part of the artist’s solo of recent paintings at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1953.

Other Modern highlights included Pablo Picasso’s late and vibrant “Tete” from 1969, showing off the head and shoulders of one of his virile musketeers, which sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for a bargain basement £4,450,500/$7,071,845 (est. £4.8-6.5 million). The Christie’s backed picture made a hammer price of £3.9 million, £900,000 shy of its low estimate. It last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2010 for $6,802,500. When the last bid came in, auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen, global president of the firm, said, “I’ll take it,” and banged his gavel on the wooden rostrum. Still, it carried an impressive exhibition note, as it was included in the now historic Palais de Papes exhibition in Avignon in 1970, featuring the artist’s paintings from 1969-70.

A pretty and large-scale interior scene by Marc Chagall, “Bouquet pres de la fentre” from 1959-60 and fresh to market, fetched a fragrant £3,281,500/$5,085,230 (est. £2.5-3.5 million).

The evening had one woman artist represented, the Russian avant garde painter Natalia Goncharova as “Voilier,” undated though undisputed in terms of its dynamic authenticity, bought in at £1.3 million (est. £1.5-2 million). The quick-moving sailboat with the artist’s initials N G emblazoned on the main sail last sold at Bonhams London in June 2008 for £1,700,000. This time, there wasn’t enough wind to get it across the finish line.

Another sailing boat themed picture had better luck as Paul Signac’s Pontillist styled composition “Marseille, le port,” from 1934, sailed past its high estimate and sold in the salesroom to an Asian bidder for £3,666,500/$5,793,070 (est. £2-3 million). It last sold at Christie’s London in June 2005 for £736,000.

“It felt like a nice, tidy, tight sale,” said Jay Vincze, head of Christie’s London Impressionist and Modern department, “and we saw a really good range of bidding from lots of different countries.”

The evening action resumes at Sotheby’s London on Wednesday, highlighted by a rare to market painting by Kazimir Malevich, another Russian avant garde master, carrying pre-sale expectations of £20-30 million.

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