This morning's auction at Christie's of Old Master & 19th Century Paintings, Drawings, & Watercolors, a rather selective affair, was given a bit of high drama thanks to buyers at Los Angeles's Getty Museum.
The museum, which also set tongues wagging earlier this month with its announcement that director Michael Brand would be stepping down, turned heads by acquiring the auction's cover lot, Louis Leopold Boillys lively Paris street scene The Entrance to the Turkish Garden Café (1812), for a record-shattering $4,562,500. The work had been estimated at $3 million to $5 million.
The sale crushed the previous auction mark for Boilly, set at the same house in January 1994, when Carnival on the Boulevard du Crime (1832) made $937,500.
“It is arguably the artist’s greatest picture,” said Scott Schaefer, senior curator of paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, moments after the sale, “and we paid the same price the seller did 20 years ago.”
The seller, prominent Australian art collector and retired media baron James Fairfax, acquired the work from London dealers Matthiesen in 1991.
The picture depicts some 60 figures, including a self-portrait of the artist in round spectacles and top hat at the right edge of the picture, who are taking in the street performers and social promenade of Parisians in the busy Boulevard du Temple located in the Marais District. Café Turc was a bustling and enormously successful restaurant and pleasure garden during Napolean’s imperial reign in early 19th-century Paris.
The actual bidding on the famed picture was handled not by Getty staff but by London dealer John Morton Morris of Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, from his seat at the back of the salesroom. Schaefer sat in the front row during the bidding, giving zero indication of any Getty interest.
Morris was discreet about his client's identity when speaking with ARTINFO after the sale, but frank about the work's price. "I thought it was incredibly cheap,” he said.