Auctions: Dollar down, prices up

After record sales of Impressionist and Modern Art in London this season, both Sotheby's and Christie's were holding their breath in New York.

May 11, 2006 08:34
2 minute read.
picasso 88 298

picasso 88 298. (photo credit: )

After record sales of Impressionist and Modern Art in London this season, both Sotheby's and Christie's were holding their breath in New York. I wrote recently that Christie's would likely take the New York honors, but they were beaten by Sotheby's when a single canvas by Picasso, Dora Maar au chat, sold for an exceptional $95,216,000 - the second highest-price ever paid for a painting at auction. Four telephone bidders competed with a bidder in the room who prevailed after a lengthy battle. Dora Maar was beautiful, but in this work Picasso rendered her as an unattractive freak with claws. Sotheby's made close to $10m. on this work. The evening totaled $207.6m., Sotheby's highest total since spring 1990 for a single evening sale. Part II of the sale totaled $40,732,000, with an unprecedented level of Russian participation. This brought the grand total for Impressionist and Modern Art at Sotheby's this spring to $248,296,800. CHRISTIE'S EVENING sale in New York brought $180.2m., also a best total since 1990, but remember how much the value of the dollar has declined since then. Vincent van Gogh's portrait Madame Ginoux, the least successful of six he made of her but the only one in private hands, did not reach its lower estimate at Christie's when it was knocked down at $37m. on its second bid. With the sales commission, the bidder paid $40,336,000. Rumor has it that he was Israeli billionaire Sami Ofer. However, Le Repos, 1932, Picasso's kitchy abstraction of his first wife, the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, fetched $34,736,000, over twice its pre-sale estimate. Picasso's early Blue Period Portrait de Germaine, 1902, sold for $18.6m., its high estimate. Wassily Kandinsky's Pfeile (Arrows), 1927, exceeded pre-sale expectations when it sold for $3.8m. Tamara de Lempicka's rather awful Groupe de quatre nus - described by a contemporary art critic as "perverse Ingrism" for its clearly lesbian content, reached its top estimate when determined bidding drove it up to $3,152,000. From Claude Monet's endless Nymph as series, Nymph as, temps gris, 1907, sold for $11,216,000. Other highlights of the sale were Alfred Sisley's pleasant La route de Hampton Court, 1874 ($1,920,000), and Camille Pissarro's L'Eglise Saint-Jacques, Dieppe, matin, soleil, 1901 ($2,256,000). Maurice de Vlaminck's Les arbres sur la place ($2,592,000) and Picasso's Femme se coiffant, a portrait Picasso painted on January 3, 1956 of his second wife, Jacqueline Roque, were further highlights ($3,376,000). Several over-priced works dropped dead without a single bid. One was Picasso's bravura Musketeer, a little work I was sure would sell; and another was a weak winter landscape by Monet. The lovely late Gauguin flower piece, a true masterpiece, was knocked down at $4m., even though Christie's had flashed an estimate of $7m.-$10m.

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