The tally easily hurdled the £92.8-133.8/$140.6-202.7 million pre-sale estimate, thanks to a surprising number of super-charged performing lots crossing a broad spectrum of art epochs. Estimates do not reflect buyer premium fees tacked on to the final hammer price and calculated at 25 percent up to £50,000, 20 percent for anything above £50,000, and up to a million pounds and 12 percent for anything beyond that. For the moment, Christie’s buyer premium charges are slightly lower than Sotheby’s recent increase, though that probably won’t last long.
Thirty-six works of the 70 that sold made over a million pounds and 45 sold for over a million dollars. Of those, two made over £10 million and five made over $10 million. One artist record was set for a German Expressionist work.
The total trailed last February’s record result of £176.9 million, a figure topped by Sotheby’s on Tuesday evening.
The evening got off to a snappy start with Andre Derain’s Fauve period, thickly brushed harbor scene, (lot 3) “Bateaux au Port de Collioure” from circa 1905, that brought £2,882,500/$4,366,988 (est. £1.2-1.8 million). Four telephone bidders chased the painting.
Another Fauve period work, (lot 23) Georges Braque’s “Paysage a L’Estaque” from circa 1907, featuring the soft hues of the sleepy fishing port and held by the owner since its acquisition in 1961, made £3,890,500/$5,894,108 (est. £2-3 million). The Braque was underbid by San Francisco private dealer Steven Platzman.
Juan Gris’s spare and striking Cubist period collage, (lot 7) “La Lampe” from May-June 1914 and executed in paper collage, gouache, and charcoal on canvas, realized £4,562,500/$6,912,188 (est. £2.5-3.5 million). Swiss private dealer Thomas Seydoux of Connery Pissarro Seydoux was the underbidder to an anonymous telephone buyer. The collage boasts a rich provenance trail, from the pioneering American collector John Quinn to Swiss collector Jacques Koerfer, who acquired the work in 1965.
All eyes in the King Street salesroom were glued on the evening’s cover lot (lot 8), Paul Cezanne’s masterful and jewel like composition, “Vue sure L’Estaque et le Chateau d’If” from circa 1883-85, acquired in 1936 by Samuel Courtauld of the eponymous gallery fame and one of Britain’s greatest French Impressionist art collectors. The vertical format picture depicting the 16th-century fortress across the bay in the gorgeous distance had been on long-term loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge from 1985 through 2014. It sold to New York private dealer Nancy Whyte for £13,522,500/$20,486,588 (est. £8-12 million). International dealer David Nahmad was the underbidder.
Classic examples of French Impressionism were in relatively slim supply as Alfred Sisley’s idyllic fishing scene, (lot 11) “Le Loing a saint-Mammes” from 1883, sold for £2,546,500/$3,857,948 (est. £1.2-1.8 million) and (lot 12) Camille Pissarro’s lushly painted and precisely titled landscape, “Le pre a Eragny, soleil, fin d’apres –midi” from 1901, brought £1,986,500/$3,009,548 (est. £1.6-2.2 million). Both works sold to anonymous telephone bidders. Remarkably, Pissarro completed some 350 paintings of the plot of land featured in this late example. The Pissarro carried a third-party guarantee, a kind of insurance for the seller since it failed to sell the last time it was on offer at Sotheby’s London, in June 2008.
Back in the high-value arena, (lot 15) Amedeo Modigliani’s pensive double-portrait, “Les deux filles” from 1918, painted in the south of France after the artist and his pregnant mistress fled war-torn Paris, sold to another telephone bidder for £7,586500/$11,493,548 (est. £6-8 million). It last sold at Christie’s London in February 2009 for £6,537,250 and this round was packaged as part of a private European collection dubbed by Christie’s “Reality & Surreality — A 20th Century Dialogue.” It remains unclear whether the laborious heading spurred bidding.
The same appellation covered (lot 16) Alberto Giacometti’s 43 ¼-inch high bronze lifetime cast, “Femme de Venise V” from 1958, that sold to another telephone bidder for £6,802,500/$10,305,788 (est. £6-8 million). It last sold at Christie’s New York in November 2010 for $10,274,500. You can call it a wash.
A second Giacometti bronze from a different collection, (lot 14) “Diego au chandail,” a 19 ¼-inch high lifetime cast from 1954 and featuring the artist’s brother and close collaborator, sold for £2,490,500/$3,773,108 (est. £2-3 million). The title refers to Diego’s bulky jumper, a practical accessory for warding off the winter chill of the artist’s studio.
The cast bronze cavalcade continued with (lot 9) Henry Moore’s sinewy and snake like, 99-inch long “Three-Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop),” dating from 1963, sold to London dealer Olivier Malingue for £4,338,500/$6,572,828 (est. £2-3 million).
“It had a very low estimate,” said Malingue as he departed the salesroom, “and my client was very happy to buy it.”
That seemed to be the evening’s theme — happy buyers consuming in a carefully prepared market.
The sale also included a number of German Expressionist works from the storied collection of the late Carl Hagemann, an enterprising chemist whose collection of officially proclaimed Degenerate Art was hidden from the Nazis at the Stadel Museum during World War II and emerged unscathed.
Of the four works, (lot 19) Erich Heckel’s nude romp in the woods, “Badende am Waldteich” from 1910 and acquired by Hagemann in 1921, sold for a record £2,994,500/$4,536,668 (est. £1.5-2.5 million) and (lot 20) Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s double-sided oil, “Badende am Meer,” another nudist romp on the island of Fehmarn on the Baltic Coast from 1913, and “Die Schlittenfahrt (Verso)” from 1922/1926, sold for £1,142,500/$1,730,888 (est. £1-1.5 million).
Franz Marc’s galloping horse, (lot 34) “Springendes Pferd” in gouache and watercolor on paper from 1913, a related work but hailing from a different European collection, went for £2,546,500/$3,857,948 (est. £1.5-2 million). It last sold at auction at Christie’s London in October 1997 for £936,500.
The separate catalogue, Art of the Surreal portion of the evening grabbed £66.7/$101 million of the overall tally and ranged from (lot 102) Jean (Hans) Arp’s floating, biomorphic abstraction, “Balcon 1,” an oil on cut-out board in the artist’s painted frame from 1925 that sold for £1,538,500/$2,330,828 (est. £900,000-1.2 million) to (lot 104) Joan Miro’s wildly animated and large-scaled composition, “Painting (Women, Moon, Birds)” from 1950, that sold to a telephone bidder for the top lot price of £15,538,500/$23,540,828 (est. £4-7 million). David Nahmad was the direct underbidder, just ahead of New York’s grand dealer, William Acquavella.
“There’s plenty of demand out there for first-rate things,” said Acquavella as he headed down the stairs to the fresh air. “People seem to be looking for some of the older things now, moving to the classic and modern.”
Miro was richly represented with five other works, including the stunning and serendipitous cover lot, (lot 116) “L’Oiseau au plumage deploye vole vers l’arbre argente” from 1953, that snared £9,154,500/$13,869,068 (est. £7-9 million). It was another member of the Reality and Surreality collection and last sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2006 for £5,160,000.
The same provenance accompanied Rene Magritte’s other worldly composition, “Les Compagnons de la peur” from 1942, depicting five owls/plant creatures nestled together on a rocky promontory. The painting sold for £4,114,500/$6,233,468 (est. £2.7-3.5 million). This important and early “leaf-bird” painting had been on loan to the Musee Magritte in Brussels since 2009.
“The Belgians are making Magritte into their saint,” said New York-based Surrealist specialist and private dealer Timothy Baum, as he watched the Magritte prices fly, especially the small-scaled gouaches on paper. Of those, (lot 114) the remarkable seated seer like figure in “Le therapeute” from 1962 sold to New York advisor Abigail Asher of Guggenheim Asher for £,986,500/$3,009,548 (est. £600-900,000). It hailed from the storied Belgian collection of Margaret Krebs and has been in a private collection since 1965. Referring to the Magritte gouaches, Asher said, “They’re the most iconic objects, small jewels of the 20th century, fresh and in gorgeous condition. It’s what everyone would like to have. “
Overall, Reality & Surreality contributed £44.3/$67.1 milion of the evening’s tally.
Francis Picabia’s (lot 110) gaudy and color charged caricature of rich socialites partying at Cannes, “Mi-Careme (Mid-Lent)” from 1925, captures in part some of the craziness of the current auction season. It sold for £1,930,500/$2,924,708 (est. £1-1.5 million). New York art advisor Mary Hoeveler was the underbidder.
The evening action resumes in London next Tuesday with Sotheby’s contemporary art sale.