Sotheby’s Brawny Night

Joan Miró, FEMME ET OISEAUX, signed Miró (lower left); signed Joan, Miró, titled and dated, Varengeville s/mer, 13/IV/1940 on the reverse, gouache and oil wash on paper, 38 by 46cm, 15 by 18 1/8 in, Executed in Varengeville-sur-Mer on 13th April 1940

Sotheby’s punchy London Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

Sotheby’s opened the London sales season with a brawny start in Impressionist and Modern art as three works fetched over £20 million pounds, driving the tally to £127.9/$161.3 million.

Six of the twenty-three lots offered failed to sell for a rather hefty 26 percent buy-in rate by lot.

The tally fell midstream between the pre-sale estimate of £110-.6-142.6/$143.2-184.6 million.

The total easily trumped last June’s £103.3/$151.8 million sale for the 24 lots that sold, a healthy 24 percent increase.

A dozen lots sold for over a million pounds and of those, four exceeded ten million pounds.

Two artist records were set and a third entry beat its previous mark in pounds sterling.

All prices reported include the hammer price plus the tacked on buyer’s premium for each sold, calculated at 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including £175,000, 20 percent of any amount in excess of that and up to £2 million and 12.5 percent of any remaining amount above that.

Estimates do not reflect the buyer’s premium.

The evening got off to a jittery start when Joan Miro’s 20 inch high painted synthetic resin maquette, “Projet pour un monument” from 1972 failed to sell (est. £800,000-1.2 million) but Alberto Giacometti’s twelve inch high bronze, “Femme debout sans bras” from a 1958 cast set the mood right at £ 2,168,750/$2,734,577 (est. £700,000-1 million).

Of the more unusual fair, especially in an evening auction of blue chip names, Conrad Felixmuller’s Expressionist composition, “Self-Portrait with my Wife Londa and my Son Titus” from 1923 realized £584,750/$737,311 (est. £300-500,000).

Alberto Giacometti, GRANDE FIGURE, inscribed A. Giacometti, dated 1947 and with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur, Paris, bronze, height: 130.3cm, 51 1/4 in, Executed in plaster in 1947, this unique bronze was cast by the Alexis Rudier foundry in Paris in 1948

It last sold at Christie’s London in February 2013 for £171,650.

The price points leaped higher with the stunning cover lot, Joan Miro’s 15 by 18 1/8 inch work on paper, “Femme et oiseaux” from 13 April 1940 and executed in in gouache and oil wash that hit £24,571,250/$30,981,889 (unpublished estimate in excess of £23/$30 million).

The work was recently exhibited in the critically acclaimed Acquavella Galleries’ show in New York, “Miro: Constellations” where the current work was one of 23 related works completed by the artist between January 1940 and September 1941, all of the time, on the run with his family in war torn Europe.

It last sold at auction at Sotheby’s London in June 1984, that’s 33 years ago, for £370,000 hammer.

The rare to market work that debuted with the rest of the series at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in 1945 came armed with a so-called irrevocable bid, a form of guarantee from an anonymous third party that assures the sale at pre-set price.

As Miro himself put it in describing the identically sized Constellations, “I feel that it is one of the most important things I have done, and even though the formats are small, they give the impression of large frescoes.”

He wasn’t kidding and the density and the breathless beauty of the current example, a swirling galaxy of Miro-esque calligraphy and color charged image making makes it a petite masterpiece.

Wassily Kandinsky
MURNAU – LANDSCHAFT MIT GRÜNEM HAUS (MURNAU – LANDSCAPE WITH GREEN HOUSE), signed Kandinsky and dated 1909 (lower right); signed Kandinsky on the reverse; signed Kandinsky, titled and numbered no. 79 on the backboard, oil on board, 70 by 96cm, 27 1/2 by 37 3/4 in, Painted in 1909, Estimate: £15,000,000-25,000,000

Another standout offering, something of increasing rarity in this material starved market, Wassily Kandinsky’s iconic composition in blazing colors, “Murnau-Landscape with Green House” from 1909 and scaled at 27 ½ by 37 ¾ inches that sold for a record £20,971,250/$26,442,649 (est. £15-25 million).

The painting was included in the important traveling exhibition organized by Tate Modern and the Basel Kunstmusuem, “Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction” in 2006-2007.

It has been cloistered in the same family collection since the 1920’s.

At least four other related works from the same year (1909) have appeared in the past ten years at auction, including “Studie fur Improvisation 8” that sold for $22.3 million at Christie’s New York in November 2012.

Kandinsky was certainly the undisputed star of the evening, at least in value, as another irrevocable bid backed work, the stormy, large-scaled and wildly experimental ”Painting with White Lines” from October 1913, replete with a symphony of color, climbed to £33,008,750/$41,620,733, topping the record set just minutes before (unpublished estimate in excess of £27/$35 million).

Wassily Kandinsky, BILD MIT WEISSEN LINIEN, (PAINTING WITH WHITE LINES), signed Kandinsky and dated 1913 (lower left); signed Kandinsky, titled, dated 1913 and inscribed No. 178 on the stretcher, oil on canvas, 119.5 by 110cm, 47 by 43 1/4 in, Painted in October 1913

Observers in the salesroom identified the buyer as London art advisor Hugo Nathan of Nathan Beaumont.

On the French Modern front, Fernand Leger’s unmistakable and super stylized still life, “Nature morte au profil” from 1922 brought £3,758,750/$4,739,408 (est, £3.5-5 million) and Pablo Picasso’s overtly decorative and pleasing in bold primary colors, “Femme accroupie” from 1954 made £7,358,750/$9,278,648 (est. £6.5-8.5 million).

The sphinx like sitter, with her arms folded around her drawn knees is Jacqueline Roque, the artist’s last wife and who survived him until her suicide in 1986.

It is believed that Picasso painted her likeness over 400 times.

The lone Surrealist offering, Rene Magritte’s starkly beautiful oil on canvas, “La recherché de l’absolu” from circa 1950’s sold for £1,928,750/$2,431,961 (est. £1-1.5 million).

Alberto Giacometti made a second and grander appearance with the iconic and razor-thin nude female, “Grande figure”, standing 51 ¼ inch high and cast as a unique bronze in 1948 at the Alexis Rudier foundry in Paris, a year after the creation of the original plaster. It fetched £17,933,750/$22,612,665 (est. £15-20 million).

It came ‘naked’ to market, without the backing of any financial guarantee.

That wasn’t the case with the Georges Seurat like and Pontillist styled Theo van Rysselberghe, “L’Escaut en amongt d’Anvers, le soir or Voiliers sur l’Escaut” from 1892 that reached a record £8,483,750/$10,697,160 (est. £7-10 million).

The radiantly stunning seascape, dominated in part by a calmly gliding sailboat at sunset and scaled at 26 ¼ by 35 5/8 inches, served as a gorgeously decorative substitute for an otherwise unobtainable Seurat who died the year before in 1891.

It last sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2002 for $2,649,600 and more recently was exhibited at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. in the 2014-2015 show “Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities: Painting, Poetry, Music.”

Sotheby’s piggy-backed another stand alone, so-called ‘curated’ evening sale immediately ahead of the Imps & Mods, cutely titled “Actual Size” that tallied £20.9/26.4 million against a pre-sale estimate for the 35 lots offered of £19.3-27.9/$24.9-36.1 million.

But that’s another story.

The take away from the evening is that rare to market, top class and increasingly difficult to source works sizzle.

The evening auction action, oddly enough, takes a breather till next week with a series of contemporary art sales as well as Christie’s lone Impressionist & Modern

The topsy-turvy scheduling reflects the rapidly changing nature of the global art market.

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