RECORD prices for three European artists helped lift the latest round of Impressionist and Modern art sales in New York. With the market much more selective since the downturn two years ago and most of the competition focusing on the biggest trophy lots, the new saleroom highs for Henri Matisse, Juan Gris and Amedeo Modigliani provided further evidence of recovery at the top end.
Making a combined $134.5m (£87.9m), the trio contributed
significantly to the auctioneers' rising totals.
Overall Sotheby's and Christie's sales raised $465.5m (£304.3m)
hammer (including day sales), significantly up on the $260m (£166m)
for the equivalent series last year.
The top lot of the series was Amedeo Modigliani's (1884-1920)
Nu Assis sur un Divan (La Belle Romaine) which drew five
bidders at Sotheby's evening sale on November 2
and sold to a telephone bidder at $65.5m (£42.8m). This was above
the pre-sale estimate "in excess of $40m" and broke the artist's
record which previously stood at €38.5m (£33.5m) for the limestone
sculpture, Tête, at Christie's Paris in June.
The price for the iconic c.1917 nude was also well above the
then-record $15.25m (£9.47m) which the work fetched last time it
was auctioned, at Sotheby's New York in November 1999.
The Sotheby's sale made a hammer total of $200m (£131m), just
over the lower end of the $195m-266m pre-sale estimate but
significantly above last year's $159m (£101m). Of the 61 lots, 46
Elsewhere in the sale, a Claude Monet (1840-1926) painting from
his water lilies series took $22m (£14.4m) against a $20m-30m
estimate, selling to an American collector, while the highest price
for the seven works by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was the $18.5m
(£12.1m) for the 1942 oil on canvas Danseuse dans le Fauteuil,
Sol en Damier. Making its third appearance at auction within
the last 10 years, it sold to a buyer bidding by phone through Mark
Politmore, chairman of Sotheby's Russian department in London.
That price was trumped the night after when
Christie's sold the large Matisse sculpture
Back IV for a record $43.5m (£28.4m).
Bought by dealer Larry Gagosian for a client, the 6ft 3in
(1.89m) high bronze cast of a woman with a ponytail went well above
the $25m-35m estimate and just pipped the previous saleroom high
for the artist - the €32m (£28m) seen for the still life Les
Coucous at Christie's Yves Saint Laurent sale in Paris in
The price seemed particularly high considering this was the last
of a set of four sculptural reliefs conceived between 1909 and
1930, but not cast until 1978 in an edition of 12. However, it was
the first time a work from the celebrated Back series had
come to auction.
Another record at Christie's was the $25.5m (£16.7m) for the
1913 Cubist painting Violin and Guitar by Juan Gris
(1887-1927) which sold to a European private buyer on the phone.
Estimated at $18m-25m, it was the highlight of four works sold from
the collection of American financier Henry Kravis and his wife
Marie-Josée Kravis who is president of the Museum of Modern Art in
From the same source was Joan Miró's surrealist landscape
L'Air which was knocked down below estimate at $9.15m
(£5.98m) to London dealer Alan Hobart of the Pyms Gallery.
Overall, Christie's evening sale was patchier than their
rival's. Although their $203m (£132m) hammer total was slightly
higher, it was from a greater number of lots. The total was just
within the $199m-$287m pre-sale estimate but greatly up on the
somewhat disappointing $56.9m (£36.2m) seen for the equivalent sale
Of the 84 works on offer, 67 sold.
By Alex Capon