Results of Impressionist & Modern Art sales in New York



The first of New York’s two high points in the annual art market agenda ended on the evening of May 7 after the last bid at Sotheby’s prestige Impressionist & Modern art sale. In two evening sessions, Christie’s and Sotheby’s generated a combined turnover of $504.8 million. Christie’s total was $66.8 million higher than its rival’s, notably thanks to 9 lots, each of which fetched over $10 million. This is of course the ultra-high end of the market and no less than 79 artworks sold above the million-dollar threshold: 43 at Christie’s and 36 at Sotheby’s.

The success of the sales was largely driven by Pablo PICASSO who was the most represented artist with a total of 20 lots (Sotheby’s 8 and Christie’s 12) and the most profitable signature in the sales. He was also the author of the sale’s most expensive bid when his Le Sauvetage,(1932) fetched $31.5m at Sotheby’s, i.e. double the amount it sold for on May 6, 2004 (Sotheby’s). At Christie’s, the dearest Picasso was a cold and angular portrait of Dora Maar that was acquired for $20m ($22.565m including fees). The work had never been to auction before and Dora Maar is definitely a favorite subject for Picasso collectors. However, with a high estimate of $35m, Christie’s was over-optimistic; usually only Picassos from the 1901-1906 period or the 1930s fetch that kind of sum. Only one work from the 40s has crossed this threshold, and while it was indeed a portrait of Dora Maar, it was a much more colorful and remarkable painting (Dora Maar au chat) that in 2006 inspired bidding up to $85m ($95,2 m including costs), generating Picasso’s third best-ever auction result.

Christie’s was also optimistic with Claude MONET’s Nymphéas, de Claude MONET, which sold for $10m under its high estimate. Fetching $24m ($27m incl. fees), it nevertheless generated the auctioneer’s best result of the sale (May 6). The Nymphéas theme is the most in-demand Monet subject and the painting itself has exceptional provenance having been owned by the Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris and New York in the 1920s, before joining the Edgar Bronfman collection in the 30s. Two Nymphéas pond paintings with similar dimensions have already fetched much higher prices, between $30 and 40 million each. However, they had better contrast, more color and were generally brighter.

Among the rare works offered at these sales, there was a plaster version of Constantin BRANCUSI’s famous Baiser. The work fetched $7.5m ($8.5m incl. fees) confirming the estimate based on the 2004 sale of Baiser in stone ($8m, November 4, 2004, Sotheby’s NY).

In the best re-sales category, Tamara DE LEMPICKA’s Dormeuse gained $2m in 20 years after being acquired for more than $2.7m including costs on May 7 at Sotheby’s (on May 11, 1994 it fetched $360,000 at Christie’s). However, the biggest jump was Amedeo MODIGLIANI’s Jeune homme roux assis which sold for $15.6m at Christie’s after selling for $7.7m at Sotheby’s on November 5, 2002.

No important new records were generated by the sales which clearly contained some over-estimated works. More spectacular results are expected at the Contemporary Art sales in which several works are carrying price tags in the same ballpark as those of the best works by Monet and Picasso sold last week. These are essentially works by Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Gerhard Richter.