Thursday - 31 July 2014

Sotheby’s lead Imps & Mods week with £17.5m Monet

20 June 2013Written by ATG Reporter

A painting of a Venetian palace by Claude Monet (1840-1926) led the latest round of Impressionist and Modern art auctions in London.

Offered at Sotheby's evening sale on June 19, Le Palais Contarini was pursued by three bidders before it was knocked down to a phone buyer at £17.5m.

The view of Venice was painted in 1908 during a period when the artist and his wife spent three months in the city. While classic examples from Monet's Water Lilies series have made more, the final sum was the highest seen at auction for one of his rarer views of Venice.

The 2ft 4in x 3ft (73 x 92 cm) oil on canvas was widely reported to have been consigned by the Nahmad family of dealers, who were also believed to be the vendors of the top lot at Christie's the night before - Wassily Kandinsky's (1866-1944) Studie zu Improvisation 3 which took a low-estimate £12m. Both works were subject to third-party guarantees, meaning they were always going to sell on the night.

The Monet at Sotheby's had been purchased by the vendors at Christie's New York in April 1996 for a premium-inclusive $4.24m (£2.83m) and had since been widely exhibited including at the 2011-12 show of the Nahmad collection in Zurich.

The auctioneers billed the picture as a work with a  "ravishing palette and timeless appeal" and set the estimate at £15m-20m. It was eventually knocked down to an anonymous telephone buyer who was bidding through a member of Sotheby's staff based in Cologne in Germany.

Another Monet painting at the sale was the earlier work Le Pont de Bois which came from the collection the late Dr Gustav Rau who died in 2002 and bequeathed his art collection to UNICEF Germany. Estimated at £4m-6m, the 1872 painting sold at £5.5m after drawing a competition between two phone bidders.

Overall, the Sotheby's sale posted a hammer total of £91.9m, comfortably within the £74.5-104.9m presale estimate, with 58 of the 71 lots getting away (82%).

Mondrian Abstract

Also making a useful contribution to the bottom line was a Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) oil on canvas from 1927. Entitled Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, the work was a piece of high abstraction which the artist called 'Neo-Plasticism' where grids of black lines interpose a white ground with clearly defined areas of primary colour.

Estimated at £4.5m-6.5m, it was knocked down at £8.2m to a telephone bidder represented in the room by Sotheby's co-chairman of Impressionist and Modern art David Norman who is based in New York.

The auctioneers said afterwards that no comparable example had been on the market for four years.

Claudel Demand

Perhaps the most stunning price of the evening however came for the Camille Claudel (1864-1943) sculpture La Valse, Première Version. A unique cast from 1893 (a first version also exists from the year before), the 3ft 2in (96cm) high bronze depicted two entwined figures dancing and was regarded as one of Claudel's most accomplished and sensual sculptures.

It came from a private European vendor who had purchased it from an auction in Stockholm, Sweden in 1990 and here it was estimated at £1.5m-2m. Drawing a prolonged battle between two determined telephone bidders, it was eventually knocked down at £4.5m.

The price smashed the previous auction high for the artist which was set only recently back in May at Sotheby's New York when the smaller bronze La Valse, Deuxième Version sold for $1.55m (£1.05m).

Christie's Kandinsky

Meanwhile, Christie's sale the previous evening offered a somewhat slimmer selection of 44 lots which saw 37 works sold (84%) for a hammer total of £55.7m. The presale estimate was £52.8m-75.8m

Although the above-mentioned Kandinsky topped the sale at £12m, knocked down on low estimate to a European dealer bidding for a private collector, better competition came for a number of other works at the sale including a sculpture by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and a rare gouache by Constantin Brancusi (1867-1957).

Offered as the first lot of the sale and getting proceedings off to a flyer, Rodin's Eve après le peche was a marble version of one of his best regarded works which, crucially, had been carved within the artist's lifetime and had an attractively light patina. It came from a European vendor whose family had acquired it back in 1979 from a German gallery.

Estimated at £500-700,000, it a number of interested parties in the room before it was finally knocked down to a European dealer on the phone at £2.5m.

The Brancusi was a 2ft 1in x 19½in (64 x 50cm) gouache on board entitled Etude de Mlle Pogany and appeared to be a worked-up study for one of the artist's sculptures of his friend Margit Pogany which the Romanian artist created in both bronze and marble. While the sculptures by the artist appear on the market more regularly, fetching multi-million pound sums on a number of occasions, his painted works are much rarer.

Consigned from a private European source, the vendor had bought it at Sotheby's New York in November 1999 for $200,000 (£123,015). Re-emerging here with a £200,000-300,000 estimate, it attracted five keen bidders including two Romanians according to the auctioneers, and it sold at £1.3m to a telephone bidder. The price was an auction high for a non-sculptural work by the artist.

Boudin Record

Also bringing demand at Christie's was an impressive beach scene by Eugène Boudin (1824-1898). Measuring 18in x 2ft 5in (45 x 73cm), the keenly observed oil on canvas Scène de plage was a large example one of the artist's pictures of the Normandy coast. The early 1864 canvas date also meant that it was produced during the period when the artist was first gaining wide recognition.

Fresh to the market from a private vendor, it was estimated at £500,000-700,000 and drew interest both in the room and on the telephone before it was knocked down to London-based dealer Ivor Braka at £1.05m. The price established a new high for the artist at auction.

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