The live-stream, online auction world kept apace in these pandemic times on Monday as Sotheby’s cross-category, “Rembrandt to Richter” auction in London delivered a solid £149,730,290/$192,672,937.
Only three of the 65 lots offered failed to sell for a trim five percent buy-in rate by lot though five works were withdrawn before the sale, including the rare and late Francis Bacon lot that was estimated at £12-18 million.
The tally, including fees, fell midway between pre-sale expectations of £108.2-155.5/$139.2-200.1 million. Estimates do not include those fees.
The hammer total was £128,135,000/$164,884,118.
Three artist records were set.
Ten works were backed by financial guarantees, with one fully financed by Sotheby’s and the rest insured by so-called irrevocable bids.
The solo in-house guarantee of Sigmar Polke’s “Nach Dali (After Dali)” from 1995 bought in (failed to sell) against an £800,000-1.2 million estimate and with it, became the property of Sotheby’s.
Even so, the rather exotic and unusual mix of Old Masters, Impressionist & Modern, Modern British and Contemporary offerings made it slightly more entertaining viewing but equally jarring as evidenced by Banksy’s “Mediterranean Sea View” from 2017, comprised of three reworked oil paintings in artist’s frames that made £2,235,000/$2,875,998 (est. £800,000-1.2 million) while Joseph Mallord William Turner’s “Whalley Bridge and Abbey, Lancashire: Dyers Washing and Drying Cloth” from 1808-1811—lagged behind and sold for £1,335,000/$1,717,878 (est. £1-1.5 million).
With this mix and match arrangement, it’s impossible to compare performance to previous outings in segregated categories such as Old Masters or Contemporary.
The standout Old Master offering, at least in price, was Rembrandt Harmensz van. Rijn’s early and petite “self-portrait of the artist, half-length, wearing a ruff and a black hat” from 1632, executed when the artist was 26 years old, brought £14,549,400/$18,722,168 (est. £12-16 million).
It last sold at Sotheby’s London in 1970 for £650 and is one of 80 self-portraits in various media that the artist made during his extraordinary lifetime.
Only three, including this one, remain in private hands and four bidders chased the prize.
It easily eclipsed the previous high of £6.9/$11.3 million for a self-portrait, realized at Sotheby’s London in 2003.
More exciting was the bidding battle for the restituted Florentine, 15th century old master, Paolo Uccello’s tempera and gold on panel “Battle on the banks of a river, probably the Battle of the Metaurus (207 BCE) “ that hit a record £2,415,000/$3,107,622 (est. £600-800,000).
It shattered the £157,250 mark set at Sotheby’s London in 2008 and represents a settlement agreement between the “the current owner” and the heirs of storied collector Fritz Gutmann who acquired the panel sometime after the Hotel Drouot sale in Paris in 1918 and later stolen by the Nazis.
Auctioneer Oliver Barker made a compelling case about the battle on panel and the bidding war going on between two Sotheby’s specialists, drumming up interest or trying to, with noting “battle in the painting—battle in the bidding.”
One has to do something to keep the pace during these exceedingly long sales, this one weighing in at three and a half hours with one intermission and Barker excels with British laced banter.
Back in the 20th century, Joan Miro’s dreamy abstraction, “Peinture (Femme chapeau rouge)” from 1927, ignited an 11 minute bidding contest and took top lot honors at £22,302,140/$28,698,394 (Est. £20-30 million).
Delighted with the competition, Barker intoned midway through the bidding, “who said auction battles were dead?”
He also and oddly complemented Helena Newman, Sotheby’s world-wide head of Impressionist & Modern art who represented the underbidder of the work, on her blazing blue dress that mimed the background color of the Miro painting.
Though identified as “property from an American private collection,” Bloomberg previously identified the seller as magnate Ron Perelman, the ceo of MacAndrews & Forbes holding company, who according to a spokesman said that Perelman “…may be adjusting his portfolio due to changes in the economic climate amid the global pandemic.”
The painting backed by an irrevocable bid, also carried with it a stellar provenance, including long ownership by the late Alexander Calder, a close friend of Miro’s and bought by Perelman from the late Swiss dealer Thomas Ammann in 1988.
Perelman also sold, though at what looked like a heavily discounted price, Henri Matisse’s dazzling and jewel like Nice period work, “Danseuse dans un interieur, carrelage vert et noir”” from 1942 (painted smack in the middle of World War II), for £6,462,500/$8,315,945 (est. £8-12 million).
It also came to market with an irrevocable bid and had resided in Perelman’s collection since 1989 as another acquisition from Ammann, according to the digital only catalogue notes.
Fierce competition for offerings was hardly the norm as Pablo Picasso’s superb, charcoal on canvas sleeping portrait of his young lover Marie-Therese Walter, “Femme Endormie” from 1931, sold for £7,316,750/$9,415,194 (est. £6-9 million).
Still, it was one of 18 lots, 100 percent sold from the otherwise anonymous “European Avant–Garde: A Private Family Collection” that overall realized £47,660,450/$61,329,467, representing a chunky third of the evening tally.
Sculpture also took root and impressively with Alberto Giacometti’s stellar life-time cast bronze, “Femme debout” from a 1958 cast and number five from the edition of eight that strode to £10,676,800/$13,738,906 (est. £4-6 million).
It was part of the aforementioned European Avant-Garde trove as was the high flier classic Fernand Leger oil on burlap, “Nature Morte” from 1914 that rose to £12,157,500/$15,644,271 (est. £8-12 million).
In that same sculpted vein, Henri Laurens’ painted stone relief, “Le Boxeur” from 1920 was a knockout that went for a record £2,055,000/$2,644,374 (est. £250,000-350,000) and Barbara Hepworth’s stunning brass with strings “Orpheus (Maquette 1)” from 1956 and from an edition of eight, raced to £1,275,000/$1,640,670 (est. £250,000-350,000).
In a more contemporary realm, Gerhard Richter’s four part, big sky and panoramic, “Wolden (Fenster)/Clouds (Window)” from 1970 breezed to £10,449,000/$13,445,773 (est. £9-12 million).
It last sold at Christie’s London in October 2014 for £6.2 million.
On a more decorative side, more Matisse like than a Richter, David Hockney’s “Pool on a Cloudy Day with Rain (Paper Pool 22),” in hand-colored and pressed paper pulp from 1978, poured at £4,87,900/$6,264,014 (est. £4-6 million).
It last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2001 for $611,000, making it a star earner this time around.
Of the much younger and rising star set, Amoako Boafo’s intense “Self-Portrait” from 2017, executed in oil and metallic paint on canvas, made £237,500/$305,615 (est. £80,000-120,000).
Though it at first sounded more like hype as opposed to reality, auctioneer Barker made a point when he said, “we’re breaking down barriers at Sotheby’s”