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Flash News: Mad about Magritte – Pierre Bergé collection – Photography

[23/11/2018]

Mad about Magritte

Four new records in less than two years! René MAGRITTE (1898 – 1967), one of Surrealism’s central figures, keeps breaking new ground on the secondary market, with a strong acceleration this past year. His auction record has more than doubled in 10 years and on 12 November in New York it reached $26.8 million when Sotheby’s offered his Le principe du plaisir (1937) with a high estimate of $20 million. Proof of a genuine and motivated demand: seven different collectors drove bidding for the work… a work that fetched $74,000 forty years ago.

Magritte was already in the news at the beginning of 2018 having attracted the highest bid at London’s Surrealist Art sales (Christie’s and Sotheby’s in February) ahead of Dali, Miro, de Chirico and many others. Entitled Le groupe silencieux, the 1926 canvas that gave Magritte the top place during London’s Surrealist February depicts a mysterious scene described by Christie’s as one of the best pioneering works created for his first exhibition at the Le Centaure Gallery in Brussels. Le groupe silencieux was presented as a remarkably prescient work, indicative of a ‘new direction’ in spite of his infatuation with the work of de Chirico.

A number of Magritte masterpieces have come onto the market over the last two years, especially after the iconic exhibition Magritte. La trahison des images organized at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Germany (2016-2017). In the months following the Pompidou Centre exhibition, no less than 109 Magritte lots emerged at auction, including 14 canvases, generating a total of $77.7 million in 2017, an annual turnover record for Magritte, who according to our forecasts, will likely remain among the global top 30 this year again.

Overview of Pierre Bergé collection sale

On 30 and 31 October, Sotheby’s and the French auction firm, Pierre Bergé & Associés, organised five sales sessions in Paris to diperse the last part of the vast collection accumulated by the aesthete Pierre Bergé (1930-2017) in his various homes. The sales were theatrically organised to recreate the different atmospheres and styles of the houses: the mansion on rue Bonaparte in Paris… the Mas Théo in Saint-Rémy in Provence… the ‘Datcha’ in Normandy and the Villa Mabrouka in Tangiers.

Businessman and patron of the arts, Pierre Bergé collected ‘without limits’ for half a century alongside Yves Saint Laurent, with ‘beauty’ as his guiding principle… whatever the price. The eclecticism of the collection – ranging from Antiquity to Modern art, including Orientalist paintings, antique furniture, Vanities from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as Islamic, African and Asian art – did not diminish the fervor of collectors since only 1 lot out of 975 remained unsold.

The Orientalist paintings were among the most hotly disputed works and the highest result from the five sessions was generated by La porte du sérail, souvenir du Caire by Jean Jules Antoine LECOMTE DU NOÜY (1842-1923) at over $2.7 million, four times its high estimate. It was also a new record for this artist whose previous auction peak was just $176,000 (The Sentinel, 1877, Sotheby’s London, 25 April 2017). In a similar vein, a painting entitled the Garde du Palais by Ludwig DEUTSCH (1855-1935) reached $2.6 million, the 3rd best-ever auction result for an artist whose works are becoming increasingly rare.

The sale also offered twelve canvases by Bernard BUFFET (1928-1999) – Bergé’s companion between 1950 and 1958 – which generated a total of $4.9 million (with each one multiplying its starting price by 3 or 4). Among them, Couple nu assis (1956) reached $800,000 against an estimate of under $140,000. An Autoportrait sur fond noir from the same year fetched $759,000 at more than five times its high estimate!

Regarding the furniture offered for sale, the bidding was equally strong with Claude LALANNE’s bronze and copper Miroir de Tanger (1925) fetching $1 million against an estimate of $227,000 – $340,000. The unique piece was ordered by Yves Saint Laurent in 1999 for the villa in Tangiers and is signed “CL, Lalanne, 99, YSL” reflecting a lifelong friendship between the two.

The provenance of the pieces clearly had a substantially positive impact on the final prices… occasionally beyond reason. From the smallest everyday objects to masterpieces of classical art, almost all the pieces exceeded their estimates by a multiple of around four. Back in 2009, the first installment of the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent sale organised by Christie’s Paris set historical records, generating a sales total of $426 million. On 14 December, the fourth installment of Pierre Bergé’s personal library will be offered for sale, followed by other sales in 2019 that will further consolidate the cult that has flourished around the legendary couple.

The Parisian photography market

To take full advantage of Paris Photo (and its numerous side events), Parisian auction houses have been keen to offer specialised sales dedicated exclusively to photography. This year, in resonance with a special focus on Japanese artists at the Paris Photo fair at the Grand Palais, Christie’s organised a monographic sale dedicated to Hiroshi SUGIMOTO which generated nearly $1.4 million on 8 November, an honorable result… but not brilliant. In fact, the surprise of the month came from the auctioneer Delon-Hoebank, which on 14 November dispersed 71 albumen prints from two albums of Gustave LE GRAY’s trip down the Nile. The result was a “white glove” with the proceeds exceeding a million dollars! Unfortunately… that was three times more than the total generated at Sotheby’s which appears to have overestimated a copy of Richard AVEDON’s famous Dovima with Elephants. Although of a decent size (124.5 x 100 cm) and rare (since the only version of this quality is at the Smithsonian museum), the print was not important enough to fetch a million dollars. Yes… Dovima with elephants has already crossed the million-dollar threshold in Paris ($1.1 million at Christie’s in 2010), but it was a 1978 edition measuring more than two meters tall and direct from the artist’s personal stock. That was eight years ago, and it still stands as Avedon’s best-ever auction result.

The recent failure at Sotheby’s Paris reflects a measured response by collectors to dilution on that particular photograph. However the figures for the photography market as a whole are unequivocal over the long term: between 1990 and 2017, auction turnover on photography rose 1,330%. In 1990 the average price for a photograph was close to $5,000. Today it is more than double that at $10,200. Accounting for just 1.1% of global Fine Art auction turnover, photography is clearly still an infant market… weighing even less than the other distinctly ‘multiple’ segment of the art market: prints (3.4%).

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