Feeding frenzy sets new record as bidders get their fill despite absence of Lloyd Webber Picasso
It was the most valuable single sale in art market history. On
the evening of November 8 Christie's set a new benchmark for fine
art auctioneering when their ticket-only sale of Impressionist and
Modern art realised a premium-inclusive total of $491.5m (£271m).
And this from a catalogue of just 84 lots lacking one of its
Masterpieces restituted from European museums lay at the heart of
a mind-boggling total that bettered the previous single-sale record
(the $286m posted by Sotheby's in May 1990) by over $200m.
The core of the sale was a group of four major oils by Gustav
Klimt that, confiscated 1938 by the Nazis, had spent many years in
Vienna's Gallery Belvedere. In January this year an Austrian
arbitration panel ruled that the paintings - and Adele Bloch-Bauer
I, bought privately by cosmetics magnate Ronald S. Lauder for a
landmark $135m in June - should be restored to the Bloch-Bauer
The four works collectively totaled a premium-inclusive $192.7m
with Adele Bloch-Bauer II sold at $78.5m/£43.4m (plus premium) to
become the third highest selling picture at auction.
Ronald S. Lauder's Neue Galerie, whose landmark purchase was one
of a handful of recent private deals that helped build the momentum
for this sale, was both buyer and seller at the sale. Represented
in the room by private dealer Daniella Luxembourg, he was the buyer
of another major restituted picture - a street scene of decadent
Berlin before the First World War painted by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
at $34m (£18.8m). Just months ago it was taken from the walls of
the Brücke Museum in Berlin and returned to the heirs of Alfred and
Thekla Hess who were Jewish collectors in Erfurt.
The Neue Galerie turned vendor, selling three works by Egon
Schiele, including the much-exhibited 1917 watercolour Kniender
Halbakt nach links gebeugt, which smashed the previous record for a
work on paper by the artist at $10m (£5.5m), and during the
two-and-a-half hour sale there were records too for Gauguin (whose
early Tahitian scene L'homme à la hâche, 1891, sold at $36m/£19.9m)
and Pierre Bonnard (Deux corbeilles de fruits c.1935 at
Never has so much money changed hands at a single sale, but it
could have been better. The $491.5m came despite the
much-publicised eleventh-hour withdrawal of the 1903 Blue Period
Picasso Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto, known as The Absinthe
Drinker, estimated at $40m-60m.
The decision, taken by Christie's and their vendor The Andrew Lord
Lloyd Webber Art Foundation (who had bought it at Sotheby's New
York in 1995 for $26.5m), followed a claim filed by Julius H.
Schoeps, who said the painting was sold under duress by his
great-uncle, a Jewish banker in Nazi Germany.
A federal judge had dismissed the claim on the grounds that his
court had no jurisdiction in the matter, but another suit was
pending in a state court.
Issues of restitution can, it seems, be a double-edged
By Roland Arkell
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