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Picasso Big Winner at London's Impressionist and Modern Art Sales

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Ah, summertime, when the art collector’s discerning eye turns to London for the highly-anticipated Impressionist and Modern Art sales. Celebrated masters from the genre including Renoir, Gauguin, and of course, Picasso - all figured heavily in these buzz-worthy sales taking place at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s throughout the week.

Picasso's Lovers Fare Well on the Sale Floor in June 2011

Christie’s ushered in the summer sales on Tuesday night with its successful Impressionist and Modern Evening sale, achieving a total of £140 million - just under the £164 million high estimate - and selling 87% by lot and 80% by value. According to Christie’s, the triumphant sale represents the 3rd highest total and one of the highest-ever selling rates (by lot) for the genre at the auction house's London location. Of the lots on offer, 80 found buyers, and 31 surpassed the £1 million mark. Success was evident from the get-go, when the first lot - a Spanish walnut and Fruitwood Trestle table - sold for a staggering 2,310% above estimate. As Giovanna Bertazzoni, Director and Head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s London stated, “The London season of summer auctions is a celebration of art that will offer collectors and admirers the opportunity to see a diverse range of art from the Impressionist and Modern category. Many of the highlights on view haven’t been seen in public for decades.” And indeed, the sales results were a reflection of the high demand for these rare works.

This sentiment prevailed, as over half the lots offered sold above their high estimates. Picasso proved to be the star artist of the evening - of his 14 works featured in the sale, including paintings and pottery, all found buyers and were sold above their high estimates. Works depicting the three infamous Picasso muses were the biggest winners of the night, as Bertazzoni remarked, “The top 3 prices were paid for portraits of 3 different lovers of Picasso, an artist who continues to attract the widest and most diverse global audience. We are thrilled to have realized funds this evening for two such worthy causes; the University of Sydney who sold a portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter given to them by an anonymous donor; and the Beyeler Foundation in Basel who will benefit from the proceeds of the sale of the Estate of the late, great Ernst Beyeler.”Femme assise, robe bleue; by Pablo Picasso

Contrary to expectations, the artist’s star work of the evening turned out to be his searing 1939 portrait of lover Dora Maar - Femme assise robe bleu, which sold for more than double its high estimate of £8,000,000, and also fetched the highest price for the evening at £17,961,250. Renderings of his lovers fared impressively in the sale, as proven by two other prized Picasso pieces: Jeune fille endormie, featuring an intimate 1936 portrait of the artist’s celebrated muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, realized £13,481,250 (£9,000,000 - £12,000,000 estimate); and Buste de Françoise, which fetched £10,681,250, just above it’s £10 million high estimate. The brightly painted 1946 colorist piece was inspired by his lover Françoise Gilot, known as the ‘femme fleur.’

Claude Monet, Nympheas, circa 1914-1917Yet not all of the results from the evening sale were so fruitful: In what may have been the biggest surprise of the evening, the dismal performance of Claude Monet’s Nymphaes (left) dashed expectations - ultimately failing to snag a buyer, despite its £17-24 million estimate. Hailed as a great late painting of Monet, the grand-scale work was executed by the artist between 1914-1917. Yet somehow it failed to sell, a disappointment that eerily echoes last summer’s Monet flop, when the artist’s Nympheas - also from the acclaimed waterlily series and estimated in excess of £40 million - failed to sell at Christie’s June 2010 Impressionist and Modern art Evening Sale in London.

Other lots that didn’t find buyers included two works by Joan Miro, as well as Edgar Degas’ 1888 vivid pastel work of ballet dancers, Avant l’entrée en scène (Deux danseuses), offered from a private collection where it has resided since 1936 (estimate: £4 million to £6 million). This pastel dates from an important period when the artist immersed himself in the medium of pastel and was executing what are now recognized as many of his finest works.

But overall the sale was a well-rounded success, as evinced by other big winners; lots 44-46 sold very well - all featuring works by surrealist René Magritte, including his 1966 goache Le paysage de Baucis, which more than tripled its low estimate of £450,000 when it achieved £1,609,250. Also greatly exceeding expectations was August Macke’s brilliant watercolor work, IM BAZAR, which sold for 395% above estimate at £3,961,250 (£600,000 - 800,000 estimate), and Paul Gauguin's Nature Morte Aux Trois Fruits, which fetched £469,250 against a predicted high estimate of £150,000.

Tuesday’s sale was followed by Wednesday’s Impressionist/Modern Works on Paper, also making waves with an impressive lineup of modern masters, totaling £6,823,625. 58 lots sold above their high estimates, and only one lot achieved below its pre-sale low prediction: Lot 184, Édouard Vuillard’s Maisons en Bretagne, which sold for £10,625 (estimate £20,000 - £30,000). Featuring an array of high-caliber drawings, pastels, and watercolors, the exquisite works from high-period Impressionism, Ecole de Paris, German Expressionism, Modernism and Surrealism, ranged in value from £2,500 to £300,000.

Ohne Titel (abstracte Zeichnung) by Paul KleeSome samplings of the day’s successes included works by artist Raoul Dufy - two of his Robe de Paul Poiret goache/watercolor works eclipsed their high estimates of £3,500 and £4,000 selling for £6,250 and £8,750, respectively. Artist Paul Klee produced some mixed results - his "...Gilt auch für Pflanzen" (estimated £200,000-£300,000) didn’t sell, despite being touted as one of the highlights of the sale, yet two of his other works, Verschlossenes Ohr and Bedrängt did exceptionally well, both eclipsing their high estimates. Most notably, the artist’s pen and ink abstract rendering Ohne Titel (abstracte Zeichnung), (left) sold for a staggering 816% above estimate, reaching a stellar £73,250 against a high estimate of only £8,000.

Also in the spotlight was Marie Cassat’s vibrant pastel work, Mathilde Holding Baby who Reaches out to Right. Created circa 1889, the artwork was predicted to fetch up to £350,000; instead it realized an impressive £577,250. Meanwhile, Egon Schiele’s striking 1910 watercolor, Mime Van Osen (estimate £300,000-500,000) garnered somewhat disappointing results when it realized £349,250, just above its low estimate. Works by Lesser Ury and Otto Dix also fared well, while Joan Miró and - shockingly - Picasso were less successful.

Just a few hours later, Christie’s held their Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale, which achieved £14,863,825 and showcased masterpieces from the Impressionist, Fauve, German Expressionist and Surrealist movements. Picasso was clearly a buyer’s favorite once again - his ceramic works performed stunningly on the auction house floor, greatly surpassing their pre-sale predictions; many achieved results that doubled, tripled, and quadrupled their pre-sale estimates. Two notable examples are Sujet Poule - a ceramic bird vessel that sold 1,873% above its high estimate of £2,800 when it realized £55,250; and the aptly titled Quatres visages, a ceramic “face” pitcher that sold for £58,850 against a pre-sale high estimate of just £3,000 (1,862% above estimate).

This eagerly anticipated sale included a rare, early Renoir portrait, Jacques-Eugène Spuller, which sold for a surprisingly modest £421,250, below its predicted high of £450,000. The vivid 1877 oil on canvas was displayed at one of the first Impressionist exhibitions ever. Le casino de Sainte-Adresse au pêcheur, by Raoul DufyTop price at auction was taken by artist Raoul Dufy’s cubist seascape, Le casino de Sainte-Adresse au pêcheur, (right) which sold for an impressive £881,250 (estimate £400,000 - £600,000). Showcasing at lot 362, an oil work by Pierre Bonnard also sold well - his Maison rose au treillage, Le Grande Lemps fetched £553,250 against a high estimate of £300,000.

Of course the sale was not without a few weighty disappointments - many of the 59 unsold lots included high-caliber works by Kees Van Dongen, Salvador Dalí, and Auguste Renoir. The acclaimed fauve portrait by artist Sonia Delaunay, Portrait du Peintre Kahler, also failed to snag a buyer, despite its rarity and quality (estimate £150,000 - £200,000). But with the success of the Picasso pieces, as well as exquisite works by Rene Magritte, DuBuffet, Edgar Degas, and others - many of which sold above their high estimates - the sale closed on a happy note.

Sotheby’s followed suit on Wednesday evening with its Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, climbing to £96,968,000 (within its pre-sale estimate of £77-£111 million) featuring a stellar range of works, many of which have never before graced the auction block. The sale saw an average lot value for the sold works of £3.03 million, and was 91.4% sold by lot and 98.4% sold by value. Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department Worldwide, Helena Newman said, “The sale...appeal[s] to a wide and very international audience. It presents a great opportunity for collectors to acquire some exceptional works, many of which are fresh to the market, having been in the same collections for many years.” The evening saw extensive international bidding from across the globe, and, according to the auction house, brings Sotheby’s worldwide sales to date for Impressionist and Modern Art in 2011 to a combined total in excess of £370 million/$600 million.

Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II) by Egon Schiele  

Headlining the sale was Egon Schiele’s Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II),  (above) which sold for £24,681,250 - almost double the previous record for the artist at auction. The monumental piece - estimated at £22-30 million - grabbed the highest price at Wednesday evening’s sale, selling to an anonymous telephone bidder. Painted in 1914 at the height of his career, Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II) is one of the most impressive of the artist’s rare grand cityscapes. The work came to the auction market for the first time from the collection of the Leopold Museum in Vienna. Newman remarked of the piece, “We were thrilled with the record price achieved for Egon Schiele’s Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II) and were honoured to bring this museum-quality work to auction.”

Other noteworthy pieces included Picasso’s famed portrait Couple, Le Baiser, which sold within its estimate at £6,537,250, and a sculpture by Auguste Rodin almost doubled its pre-sale high estimate of £350,000 when it fetched a hefty £601,250. One of the sale’s touted highlights was Alberto Giacometti’s exquisite Trois hommes qui marchent II, which didn’t quite meet the high hopes of spectators when it realized £10,681,250, just above its pre-sale low-estimate of £10,000,000. Another star lot fared better: Paul Signac’s 1913 oil masterpiece Les Tours Vertes, La Rochelle (below) snagged a buyer at £2,617,250, double its pre-sale low estimate of £1,200,000. Les Tours Vertes, La Rochelle; by Paul Signac

The “summer fever” continues at Sotheby’s on Thursday, when the auction house will hold its Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale, split into two sessions. The sale highlights the works of modern greats like Miro and Leger, while the early-modernist dreamscapes of Chagall and fantastical surrealist pieces by Dali are also spotlighted in this two-part sale.

The season officially kicked off in May, with spring-starter sales by both auction houses in New York - although both sales produced rather lackluster performances. Although Christie’s May 4th Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale did fairly well - realizing over $155 million, with 82% sold by lot and 81% by value, and three works sold over the $20 million mark - the sale failed to surpass the bar set by 2010’s spring sale stunners. But it would be hard to top the success of last year’s sales, when Christie’s May 2010 Modern and Impressionist Evening Sale saw the infamous Nude, Green Leaves and Bust by Picasso go for a record-breaking $106.5 million, and the overall sale total reached a whopping $335.6 million. And Sotheby’s had similar success the following month, with the sale of Manet’s self-portrait achieving £22 million - a record-setting bid for the artist. After such success, perhaps expectations for this year’s spring sales were a bit on the high side.

“The market is dull,” Robert Landau, a Canadian dealer told the New York Times after the somewhat disappointing May 2011 Sotheby’s sale. “People are desperate for merchandise. Buyers are waiting for the sales in June, which will have better material.” Landau’s predictions proved to be fairly accurate, as the Impressionist and Modern Sales at both auction houses performed remarkably well this summer season - with “buyer’s choice” Picasso emerging as the most victorious.

Written by Staff is a revolutionary online art information service which covers the world of art by collecting content about events, venues, artists, articles and auctions from thousands of web sites.
Pierre Bonnard
Mary Cassatt
Marc Chagall
Salvador Dalí
Edgar Degas
Sonia Delaunay
Otto Dix
Kees van Dongen
Jean Dubuffet
Raoul Dufy
Paul Klee
Fernand Léger
August Macke
René Magritte
Joan Miró
Claude Monet
Pablo Picasso
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Auguste Rodin
Egon Schiele
Paul Signac
Édouard Vuillard