Previewing the Highlights of London's Turbo-Charged Summer Auctions

Claude Monet's "Le Pont de Bois," 1872

Impressionist & Modern

The summer season begins on June 18 at Christie’s, whose sale is headlined by a strong group of fresh-to-market estate material from the art-dealing Tiroche family. This includes the early Paul Cézanne Don Quichotte, vu de dos, circa 1875, a petite yet dynamic oil on canvas (est. £300–400,000; $466–622,000), and Marc Chagall’s dreamy, deep-blue La nuit enchantée, 1964 (est. £1–1.5 million; $1.6–2.3 million). Another Tiroche highlight, Pablo Picasso’s busily puffing Buste d’homme à la pipe, 1969, in oil on card laid down on panel—part of the artist’s swaggering musketeer series—?is domestically scaled at 381?4 by 16 inches and meets the market’s current taste for color and flair (est. £900,000–1.2 million; $1.4–1.9 million).

Beyond the Tiroche cache, a larger Picasso, Femme assise dans un fauteuil, 1960, a portrait of the artist’s wife Jacqueline Roque in a bravura cascade of brushstrokes, is pegged at £4 million to ?£6 million ($6.1–9.2 million). Other expected standouts include Joan Miró’s La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune, 1952, which carries a low estimate of £5.2 million ($8 million) and Wassily Kandinsky’s Studie zu Improvisation 3, 1909, estimated at £12 million to £16 million ($19–25 million). The Kandinsky has been consigned by the  Nahmad family with a third-party guarantee.

Choice Surrealist cuts include Salvador Dalí’s mystical Le Christ de Vallés, 1962 (est. £1.5–2.5 mil lion; $2.3–3.9 million), acquired directly from the artist in the 1960s and making its auction debut, and René Magritte’s commanding La chambre du devin, from the prime year of 1926 (est. £700,000–1 million; $1.1–1.5 million). “The Surreal market goes from strength to strength,” observes Jay Vincze, head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s London, “and we’re trying to feed the demand.”

The following night, at Sotheby’s, a rare 1908 view of Venice by Claude Monet, Le Palais Contarini, could steal the spotlight. Also consigned by the Nahmads, and carrying a third-party guarantee, it has a lofty presale estimate of £15 million to £20 million ($23–31 million). The artist painted the work during a three-month trip to Venice in 1908, during one of the first Biennales there. Last sold in 1996 at Christie’s New York, it was hammered down for $3.8 million. An earlier Monet, Le pont de bois, 1872, will be offered with an estimate of £4 million to £6 million ($6.1–9.2 million). The subject is a busy pedestrian bridge crossing the Argenteuil that frames mirrored reflections of light and smoke on the water. “It’s really painted at the birth? of Impressionism,” says Samuel Valette, a senior Imp/mod specialist at Sotheby’s London, “and it doesn’t feel like a painting done in the atelier but one rapidly painted outside.” As if that weren’t enough, the canvas carries a spectacular provenance: Its previous owners include Edouard Manet, who acquired it from Monet the year it was painted, and the Pasadena collector Norton Simon. The consignor is the estate of Gustav Rau, which is selling several of the storied collector’s works to benefit UNICEF Germany.

Sotheby’s is also offering a rare-to-market Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue, 1927, divided by thick lines of black against broad ?white expanses and housed in the artist’s original frame. The painting last sold at auction at Christie’s London in April 1990 for? £1.76 million ($2.87 million); the estimate here starts at £4.5 million and goes up to £6.5 million ($7–10 million). “It is the epitome of Abstraction,” says Valette, “and the epitome of modernism in the first half of the 20th century.”


The atmosphere may be bullish at the top of the contemporary market, but some experts sense hesitation creeping in. “It’s a strange situation,” says Francis Outred, international director and head of postwar and contemporary art for Christie’s Europe. “The market is buoyant and strong, and the things that come to auction are performing very well...yet there seems to be a slight shyness to bring things to auction.” Although the European financial markets have largely stabilized, the houses’ new emphasis on private sales may be giving sellers too many options when deciding to consign.

That wasn’t the case, however, for a passel put up by the Spanish developer Grupo Urvasco S.A. at Christie’s. The 46 works are all by or related to Eduardo Chillida, including sculptures and paintings by an international cast of artists influenced by him, and were exhibited ?at the Guggenheim Bilbao in 2006 under the banner “Homage to Chillida.” Nine, including one of the Basque artist’s last monumental Corten steel sculptures, Buscando la Luz IV, 2001 (est. £4–6 million; $6.2–9.3 million), will appear in the house’s June 25 evening sale. On a lighter note, the house also has John Currin’s Daughter and Mother, 1997, whose greeting- card feel is derailed by the daughter’s Dolly Parton-esque build. Shown in Currin’s breakout exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ in London, it is expected to fetch between £1.4 million and £1.8 million ($2.2–2.8 million). And Peter Doig’s Jetty, 1994, is priced at £4 million to £6 million ($6.2–9 million).

 On June 26 at Sotheby’s two Francis Bacon paintings lead the evening sale. The earlier is Head III, 1949 (est. £5–7 million; $7.7–10.8 million), from a series of six “Head” paintings included in the artist’s first commercial exhibition, at Erica Brausen’s Hanover Gallery, and? one of three not in a museum collection. “It’s really the first time he paints a human face,” says Alexander Branczik, senior director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s London, “and this one is very existential, with the grisaille colors and influence of Alberto Giacometti.”

The sale’s other Bacon, a ravishing 1966 triptych portraying London artist and designer Isabel Rawsthorne in a kind of time-lapse style, is tagged at £10 million to £15 million ($15.5–23.2 million). It last sold at Christie’s in June 2004 for £2,357,250 ($4.3 million). The recent surge of Bacons coming to market after a dip in 2008 is a good sign that the market  for his work has recovered.

Sotheby’s is also featuring Martin Kippenberger’s stunning Untitled (Self Portrait), which the late artist, already in failing health, painted in 1992 (est. £1.2–1.8 million; $1.9–2.8 million), and Bridget Riley’s dizzying composition Stretch, 1964 (est. £1–1.5 million; $1.5–2.3 million). Rounding out the sale will be five of Andreas Gursky’s large scale exchange photos, offered from a private collection, the highest estimated of which are Chicago Board of Trade III, 1999-2009, and “Chicago Board of Trade, 1997,” each estimated at £600,000 to £800,000 ($930,000–1.2 million).

Closing out the week, Phillips has Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Three Pontificators, 1984 (est. £3.5–5.5 million; $5.4–8.5 million) in its June 27 evening sale. Also among its expected top sellers is Glenn Brown’s Oscillate Wildly (after ‘Autumnal Cannibalism,’) 1936 by Salvador Dalí), 1999 which is estimated at £2.5 million to £3.5 million ($3.9–5.4 million).

With additional reporting from Eileen Kinsella.

To see images, click on the slideshow.