A couple of well-known private collections boosted the latest round of Modern and Contemporary art auctions in New York, helping the series to a near-record level.
With the market seemingly returning to normality, the supply of the most valuable lots over the fortnight of sales was not only back to pre-pandemic levels but actually exceeded them as a backlog of consignments was released after being held back over the last 18 months.
The overall total for the auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips was $2.57bn (£1.92bn) with premium. This was well above the $1.46bn (£1.14bn) series held in November 2019, the last flagship series before Covid struck, and behind only the $2.74bn (£1.84bn) in May 2015 in terms of highest-grossing series of all-time.
Christie’s benefited from a sell-out group of Impressionist paintings from the collection of Texas oil and gas magnate Edwin Lochridge Cox, who died last year aged 99. The stand-alone sale held on November 11 raised a premium-inclusive $332m (£248m).
The 23 lots featured a number of prime pieces including a Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) landscape, Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès, which made $62m (£46.3m), and a Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) rooftop view of the Provençal fishing village of L’Estaque that made $48m (£35.8m).
Cox had bought both works from New York dealer Wildenstein & Co. That was also the case with another picture that, to many observers, was the highlight of the sale.
Gustave Caillebotte’s (1848- 94) Jeune homme à sa fenêtre (Young man at his window), sold at $46m (£34.3m) – a new record for the artist – to the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The price surpassed the £14.5m for Chemin montant that sold at Christie’s London in February 2019 which was the previous high for the artist.
The work was described by the Getty as a “large-scale figure painting, widely considered a masterpiece of modern realism and a key moment in the history of Impressionism”. It is the first work by Caillebotte to enter the Getty’s collection.
The 3ft 10in x 2ft 8in (1.16m x 81cm) oil on canvas depicts a dark, suited figure modelled on the artist’s brother René gazing out of the window of the family’s residence on the corner of rue de Miromesnil and rue de Lisbonne in Paris’s 8th arrondissement.
It was shown at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876, when the artist was 27 and, apart from his most famous painting The Floor Scrapers from 1875, was the work given the most critical acclaim among his submissions.
The following week Sotheby’s offered the most lucrative consignment of the series with the white-glove sale of 35 works from the Macklowe Collection on November 15.
A mixture of Modern and Post-War art, the auction raised $676.1m (£504.6m) including premium, a total that will be split between real estate mogul Harry Macklowe and his former wife Linda following the conclusion of their divorce trial in 2018.
The overall total represented a record for a single-owner sale, surpassing the $646.1m (£476.1m) for the 44 lots from the David and Peggy Rockefeller collection at Christie’s in May 2018. It was also the highest total for any sale at Sotheby’s.
It was led by Mark Rothko’s (1903-70) No. 7 from 1951, which made $77.5m (£57.8m) and posted the highest individual sum of the fortnight.
Sotheby’s also recorded a new benchmark for any piece of Latin American art, when Frida Kahlo’s (1907-54) Diego y yo (Diego and I) from 1949, the artist’s last fully-realised bust-length self-portrait, fetched $31m (£21.1m). Selling to Argentine real estate developer Eduardo F Costantini, it made a considerable increase on the $1.4m it achieved on its last appearance at auction at Sotheby’s New York in 1990.
Bacon tops sale
Phillips also realised its highest total in the company’s history when the 20th Century & Contemporary Art evening sale on November 17 raised $139.1m (£103.8m) with premium.
The top lot was Francis Bacon’s Pope with Owls from c.1958, although it sold below its $35m low estimate at $33m (£24.6m).
£1 = $1.34