Sotheby’s secured the most valuable group of works, the collection of the late American arts patron Emily Fisher Landau, guaranteeing the entire consignment and offsetting most of the top lots via ‘irrevocable bids’ arranged in advance of the sale.
Emily Fisher Landau, who died earlier this year at the age of 102, began collecting in the late 1960s. The wife of real estate developer Martin Fisher (who predeceased her in 1976) and clothing manufacture Sheldon Landau (who died in 2009), she bought a number of major works through Pace Gallery and fellow New York dealer Leo Castelli Gallery.
With 113 lots spread across two Sotheby’s sales, the $424.7m (£345.3m) total including premium made it “the most valuable auction ever devoted to a female collector” according to the auction house.
The 31-lot evening sale on November 8 was led by a Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) portrait of Marie-Therese Walter from 1932. Landau had given it pride of place above the mantle in her Manhattan apartment.
Titled Femme à la montre, it had an ‘estimate on request’ which was believed to be in excess of $120m. On the night it was eventually knocked down at $121m (£98.4m) to a telephone bidder operating through Sotheby’s worldwide head of sales Brooke Lampley. With fees added, the price was $139.4m (£113.3m).
In terms of the all-time highest prices for Picasso, it only stands behind the $160m (£108.1m) for Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) that sold at Christie’s New York in 2015.
The following night, Christie’s held its 20th century evening sale which raised a $640.9m (£521m) total including premium with 61 of the 63 lots selling.
It was led by Claude Monet’s (1840-1926) Le bassin aux nymphéas which sold to a phone bidder at $64m (£52m). The price, $74m with fees added, was the second highest for a painting from the Impressionist painter’s waterlilies series, only behind the $84.7m (£62.4m) including premium for Nymphéas en fleur from c.1914-17 sold by Christie’s in 2018 as part of its sale of the Rockefeller collection.
Dating from c.1917-19, it had been acquired by the vendor’s family in 1972. The price was the second highest for a painting from the Impressionist painter’s waterlilies series, only behind a slightly earlier example sold at the Christie’s Rockefeller sale in 2018.
Among the six auction records at Christie’s was the highest price for Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) when a large sculpture, The Family of Man: Ancestor II, was knocked down at $9.7m (£7.89m) to a phone bidder.
Conceived in 1970, the bronze cast in 1974 measured 9ft 1in (2.77m) high. With fees, the price as $11.6m.
The sale also featured a Paul Cézanne still life which made $33.5m (£27.2m), marginally below the $35m-55m estimate. Fruits et pot de gingembre was consigned by the Museum Langmatt in Baden, Switzerland, but a settlement agreement was reached ahead of the sale with heirs of German-Jewish banker and art collector Jacob Goldschmidt who had jointly owned it until 1933. Christie’s catalogue stated: “The settlement agreement resolves the dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the successful bidder.”
The current sale marked the last appearance on the rostrum in New York of Christie’s Global President Jussi Pylkkänen who is leaving at end of the year to work as an independent art advisor. After bringing the gavel down for the final lot of the sale at the Rockefeller Center, he was met with a standing ovation.