Thin catalogues and thin demand for aggressively-priced works by Modern masters characterised the recent sales of Impressionist and Modern Art in New York.
Sotheby's sale held on May 5, the day after the company's credit
status received a 'junk' grading, was much diminished from years
past both in number of works and value. A catalogue of 36 lots
generated a hammer total of $53m (£37.9m) against a pre-sale
estimate of $81.5m-111.8m - a shadow of the equivalent sale last
year when a 52-lot selection posted $208.6m.
While 29 of the 36 lots sold, the figures were blighted by the
failure of two big-ticket items estimated at $16m-24m each. The
first of these was a 1938 Picasso canvas depicting his two-year-old
daughter Maya holding a toy boat. It had been consigned by a victim
of the Bernard Madoff ponzi scheme.
Meanwhile, a Giacometti bronze of a cat cast in 1959 in an
edition of eight also failed to sell. Both had been offered
privately prior to the sale and were considered overpriced.
But the evening was not without its positive notes - not least
that the sale was free of the guarantees that had begun to
compromise the auction house's profits when offering the world's
most expensive pictures.
Mondrian's 1934 Composition in Black and White with Double
Lines brought the highest price of the evening, selling to an
unidentified bidder sitting in the back of the saleroom for a
double-estimate $8.2m ($5.9m).
Six bidders competed for the work. Some attributed its
popularity to the Yves Saint Laurent effect: the Paris sale had
offered three Mondrians, including a 1922 canvas, said to have sold
to Abu Dhabi's Louvre museum at €19.2m (£17.4m).
Three well-priced Impressionist images from a celebrated New
York collection also performed well.
The late Marian Kingsland Frelinghuysen was an heir of Henry and
Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer, celebrated collectors who left a
portion of their collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in
1929. On loan to the Met had been the early Monet landscape,
Voilier sur le petit bras de la Seine, Argenteuil from
1872, which sold to the Nahmad Gallery for $3.4m (£2.4m), more than
twice its high $1.8m estimate.
The Madoff scandal had also brought Christie's the front cover
lot for their sale the following day: a 1968 Picasso entered for
sale by Jerome Fisher, co-founder of the footwear company Nine West
and a Palm Beach resident. Purchased at the Rockefeller Centre in
2004 for $6.4m (£4.57m), Mousquetaire à la pipe was
estimated to sell for $12m-18m.
Christie's secured a third party to guarantee its sale, but
there was genuine competition from five bidders before Brussels
dealer Galerie Vedovi acquired it for a European collector at $13m
Of the 38 works sold in this 48-lot sale (a major work by Max
Ernst, with hopes of up to $9m, was withdrawn at the last minute),
Christie's said European buyers secured 17 pictures and Americans
The sale of their highest-priced works lifted Christie's hammer
total to $89.5m (£63.9m), beating the $87.6m low estimate, but it
was their lowest aggregate for Impressionist and Modern art in New
York since 2004. Christie's NY sale posted $246m in 2008.
By Roland Arkell