Modigliani and Morisot Lead Christie’s London to a Smashing $213-Million Night

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By James MacLean

LONDON — The international art market continued to show unabated strength and hunger for property tonight as Christie’s delivered a record tally for a mid-season Impressionist-Modern and Surrealist Art evening sale here, hitting £136,462,100 ($213,426,725).

Sixty-six of the 74 lots offered sold for a slim buy-in rate of 11 percent by lot and six percent by value. Eight works made over five million pounds and 32 exceeded the one million pound mark. Forty-two lots hurdled the million dollar mark and five sold for over ten million dollars.

The tally impressively exceeded pre-sale expectations of £89.8-132.8 million ($140-207 million) for the 74 lots offered, although estimates do not reflect the added on buyer’s premium.

Four artist records were set, including one for a ravishing painting of a seated woman holding a fan by the American born expatriot artist Berthe Morisot, “Apres le dejeuner” (1881), which sold to an anonymous telephone bidder after a ferocious duel for £6,985,250 ($10,924,931) (est. £1.5-2.5 million).

The painting last sold at Christie’s New York in May 1997 for a then whopping $3,250,000.

Christie’s claimed it was the highest price ever achieved for a woman artist at auction and the Morisot doubled her previous artists record, set by “Cache-Cache” (1873), which sold for $5.1 million at Sotheby’s New York in November 2005.

The same anonymous bidder (paddle number 839) bought Aristide Maillol’s black patinaed bronze nude, “La nuit, premiere etat,” conceived in 1902 and cast sometime later, according to catalogue notes, for £1,385,250 ($2,166,531) (est. £1-1.5 million), as well as the much edgier Pablo Picasso “Nu Accroupi” (1960), a monumental depiction of his wife Jacqueline, for £7,321,250 ($11,450,435) (est. £3-5 million).

Skarlet Smatana, director of the Athens-based George Economou Collection was the underbidder, with numerous others chasing the price, including New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe. “It’s a sophisticated painting and worth more than that,” said Smatana as she exited the salesroom, “but it didn’t work out [for us].”

The same hungry telephone bidder (the same paddle, #839) helped drive up the price and underbid a sun-drenched Pierre-Auguste Renoir garden scene of a young woman taking it all in, “L’ombrelle” (1878), which sold to another telephone bidder for £9,673,250 ($15,128,963) (est. £4-7 million). It looked like a mini-shopping spree.

That particular Renoir last sold at Christie’s New York in May 1988 during the time of an earlier art boom for $7.26 million.

But the evening cover lot for the Impressionist Modern section, Amedeo Modigliani’s swan-necked beauty, “Jeanne Hebuterne (au chapeau),” featuring his muse and mistress from 1919, took the resale trophy as it sold to yet another telephone bidder for £26,921,250 ($42,104,835) (est. £16-22 million).

It had last sold at auction at Sotheby’s London in June 2006 for £16,360,000. If you do the math, it’s a massive return.

The seller, identified in the catalogue as hailing from a “distinguished New York collection,” is in fact Sheldon Solow, the storied real estate developer with a kind of private museum in the side lobby of his 9 West 57th Street office tower. The buyer might feel invigorated that it formerly hung in the bedroom of the Modigliani champion and Paris poet/dealer Paul Guillaume.

The Modigliani ranks second in this week’s sweepstakes, coming close but not surpassing the £28.6 million ($45 million) price fetched for Picasso’s “Femme assise pres d’une fenetre” at Sotheby’s on Tuesday.

Apart from the telephone rush of buying, there was some real action in the salesroom as New York dealer William Acquavella snagged a classic, Nice-period Henri Matisse, “Jeune fille a la mauresque, robe verte” (1921) for £3,065,250 ($4,794,051) (est. £2.-3.5 million), and New York real estate developer Fred Elghnayan won Egon Schiele’s brilliant gouache, watercolor, ink and pencil portrait on paper, “Erich Lederer Standing with Hand on Hip” (1913) for £657,250 ($1,027,939) (est. £300-400,000)

“I think it’s a nice Schiele,” said Elghnayan as he left the salesroom, “but I don’t want to say anything more.”

The collector also underbid Schiele’s “Erich Lederer Drawing on the Floor,” a related watercolor and pencil from 1912 that sold for £481,250 ($752,675) (est. £250-350,000).

Color-charged expressionist works were in high demand as Maurice de Vlaminck’s Fauve period landscape, “Avres a la masion bleue” (1906) made £3,401,250 ($5,319,555) (est. £2-3 million) and Wassily Kandinsky’s pre-abstraction landscape, “Murnau-Ansicht mit Burg, Kiche und Eisenbahn” (1909) sold to a telephone bidder for £6,761,250 ($10,574,595) (est. £5-7 million).

In the £38,150,450 ($59,667,304) Surrealist section — the firm’s highest tally to date — the top lot prize was won by Joan Miro’s formidable, Venus-like, 74½-inch-high black bronze sculpture, “Femme (Femme debout),” conceived (as the saying goes) in 1969 and cast sometime later in an edition of four plus one artist proof, that sold for £6,313,250 ($9,873,923) (est. £3-5 million).

In the painting world, Rene Magritte’s imploded landscape/still life, “Le Plagiat (Plagiary)” (1940) sold to yet another telephone bidder for £5,193,250 ($8,122,243) (est. £2-3 million).

At more modest levels, Jean Arp’s punctured “Tete-Nez,” in oil on cut-out board from 1925-26, sold to New York dealer David Nash of Mitchell-Innes & Nash for £217,250 ($339,779) (est. £100-150,000). “I’m putting together a show of Arp next month in New York,” said Nash as he left the salesroom, “and this will be in the exhibition.”

Giving a snapshot of what it’s like to sit through these marathon auctions, Nash observed, “I’ve sat through four hours of auctions and come away with one painting, so I have only myself to blame.”

One of the evening’s edgiest offerings, Oscar Dominguez’s erotic and rather savagely depicted “Machine a coudre electro-sexuelle” (1934-35) sold for a record £2,113,250 ($3,305,123) (est. £1.3-1.8 million) to San Francisco dealer Wendi Norris. The painting last sold at Christie’s London in June 2008 for £1,497,250 ($2,940,974).

Caught up on the stairway leading out from Christie’s Mayfair salesroom, Norris was jazzed about her purchase. “I bought it for my gallery,” said the dealer, “and I have a lot of ideas of what I might do with it — it’s just a phenomenal painting and I’m so happy to have it.”

The auction action resumes next Tuesday at Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale.

James MacLean

About James MacLean

Inspirational, accomplished and passionate. Those are just a few words to describe luxury marketing guru James MacLean, who has transformed the celebrity product placement industry through events such as GRAMMY’S /Latin Grammy's, Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards, American Country Music Awards, Golden Globes, Spike TV Video Game Awards, BET Awards, NAACP Image Awards, Sundance Film Festival and Grand Prix Monaco. He continues to set the pace and raise the bar in only the most glamorous settings around the globe.