Sothebys Historic Sale
Sothebys Historic Sale
The art market received a huge shot in the arm on Wednesday evening at Sotheby’s historic Impressionist and Modern evening sale, as Alberto Giacomettis iconic bronze, L’Homme Qui Marche I (1961) sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for a record-eclipsing £65,001,250 ($104,327,00), several times its pre-sale estimates of £12–18 million.
That staggering price, which beat the record for any modern sculpture and also smashed the Giacometti’s previous high of $27,481,000, earned by Grand femme debout II at Christie’s New York in May 2008, electrified the salesroom.
The Giacometti helped drive the sale’s overall tally to £146,828,350 ($235,659,502), a record for any auction in London. Of the 39 lots offered, 31 sold, for a buy-in rate of 20.5 percent by lot and 3.5 percent by value. The tally soared way beyond the pre-sale expectations of £69–102.1 million, with 17 of the sold lots exceeding £1 million, and of those, three selling in excess of £10 million. In dollars, 22 of the lots made over a million.
The evening got off to a rousing start as Georges Seurats Conté-crayon-and-gouache drawing Garconnet assis (Maurice Appert) from circa 1884 sold to a telephone bidder for £1,945,250 ($3,122,126), nearly double its estimates of £750,000–1 million. The page-sized work last sold at auction at Paris’s Ader, Tajan in November 1989 for the equivalent of $691,000.
Manning the phone line was none other than Sotheby’s president and CEO William Ruprecht, who had a busy night as one of the legion of bid takers.
Paul Cezannes masterful still life Pichet et fruits sur une table (1893–94), in oil on paper laid down on panel from (est. £10–15 million) sold to another telephone bidder, again taken by Ruprecht, for £11,801,250 ($18,941,006; est. £10–15 million). The seasoned Cezanne, once owned by the likes of Albert Barnes and Laurance Rockefeller, last sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in May 1989 for a then record $11,550,000 and was bought in at the same house in May 2001 when it was estimated at $14–20 million.
Impressionist-era pictures mostly lagged behind their modern counterparts. Camille Pissarros 1901 cityscape L’Eglise Saint-Jacques a Dieppe, matin, soleil, for example, sold to another telephone bidder for a certainly respectable but less spectacular £2,505,250 ($4,020,926; est. £2–3 million). It last sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2002, for $2,099,500.
Carefully calibrated bidding was tossed aside, though, as the Giacometti bronze, a rare life-size and life-time cast, came up, and hurdled past its high estimate in what seemed like seconds. New York private dealer Nancy Whyte dropped out at £23 million, and trader David Nahmad at £24 million, leaving the contest to a quartet of telephone bidders.
Murmurs in the packed salesroom grew louder as the bidding surpassed the rarefied stratosphere of £50 million and finally landed at the hammer price of £58 million before premium. Ruprecht’s mystery phone bidder was vanquished by one connected to Sotheby’s specialist Philip Hook, who looked dumbstruck by the astonishing result. Christie’s £76.8 million tally the evening before had looked bright at the time, but lost its luster in the blinding light of the Giacometti.
Five lots later, fireworks exploded once again, for the partially restituted Gustav Klimt landscape and cover lot, Kirche in Cassone-Landschaft mit Zypressen (Church in Cassone-landscape with cypresses) (1913), depicting the beautiful scenery of Lake Garda in Italy in Klimt’s polished handling. It eventually went to a telephone bidder for a whopping £26,921,250 ($43,208,606), well beyond its estimated £12–18 million.
The painting was taken during the Nazi era from the heirs of early Klimt patron and iron magnate Viktor Zuckerkandl in Vienna. Just recently a great-nephew of the family, Georges Jorisch, now 81 and living in Montreal, made an arrangement with the current European owner to sell the work and divide the proceeds. The exact details of the deal, brokered by Sotheby’s, are not public.
Egon Schiele, another prominent Austrian, also made market waves when his exquisite Sitzende Frau mit violetten Strumpfen (1917), a gouache and black crayon on paper, sold to London dealer Richard Nagy for £4,857,250 ($7,795,886; est. £3–5 million). Describing the leaning figure in violet stockings as the "Ava Gardner of Vienna," Nagy, who entered the fray at £4.1 million, hoping it was "about to go down," said of the final price, "unfortunately for me, it was what I was expecting."
German Expressionist and color-charged works continued to attract the market as the Ernst Ludwig Kirchners large-scaled chorus line of acrobatic and mostly nude cabaret performers, Varieteparade (1910–26) sold to Cologne-based dealer Alec Lachmann, who largely represents Russian clients, for a bubbly £2,953,250 ($4,739,966; est. £1–1.5 million). “It’s really a bargain,” said Lachmann as he exited the salesroom, pointing out that the majority of the 60 ¼ by 78 ¾ inch painting was done in 1910, when the artist was visiting those racy cabarets in Dresden. “And it’s in good condition.”
Surrealism continued to make market strides as Rene Magrittes ethereal nude, Le beau navire (1942), with its statuesque, sky-colored, figure holding a rose and standing before the sea, sold to London dealer Hector Paterson for £3,737,250 ($5,998,286; est. £2.5–3.5 million).
Ironically, given the astronomical price for the Giacometti bronze, Petit Buste sur Colonne (1952), a unique painted plaster in which the Swiss artist portrays his brother Diego, failed to sell and was bought in at a chandelier bid of £1.5 million (est. £1.8–2.5 million). Several dealers noted that the extreme fragility of the surface might have scared off contenders, but that seems a short-sighted concern given its singular beauty.
The sturdy Henry Moore bronze Working model for Drape Seated Woman Figure on Steps (1956), from an edition of nine plus one artist proof, raised no such concerns, however, selling to seasoned London dealer Desmond Corcoran for £1,026,850 ($2,762,606, est. £500–700,000). It last sold at the same house in December 1987, for £247,500.
In summing up the sale, Sotheby’s specialist Philip Hook spoke of last season’s buoyant Impressionist and Modern sale in New York. “The results in November,” he said, “confirmed the confidence of the market and helped drive this one.”
Hook’s colleague, Helena Newman, added another closing note in the boisterous post-sale press conference, saying "the sale continued to demonstrate the enormous demand for great works of art.”
The big question remains whether the uber-performance of the Giacometti and the Klimt will draw out other masterpieces from the woodwork for future competition.