Last night, Christie’s New York (located in Rockefeller Center) held part 1 of their highly anticipated sale of the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller. Billed as “the sale of the century,” more than 1,500 lots are to be offered including the 44 star lots from last evening. It probably should be noted that all 44 works carried a guarantee from Christie’s… Christie’s was only able to secure the sale over their rival Sotheby’s by guaranteeing a minimum total of $650M to the Rockefeller estate (the $650M is a guarantee on all 1,500+ lots, not just the 44 from last night). Coverage of the sale was a bit mixed, but from what I saw (in the live feed), there was healthy action… the only comment I could make would be at times bidding slowed during some lots, but the prices achieved were pretty solid – I mean, it took more than 12 minutes for the Monet (featured on the catalog cover) to sell… at one point they were taking $500K increments in the low 60’s, but the pace picked back up… it hammered at $75 million!
In any case, let’s get down to it… the top lot of the evening was a work by Picasso from his Rose Period (1904-1906). The work, Fillette a la Corbeilee Fleurie, depicting a nude figure holding a basket of roses, was originally owned by Gertrude Stein and was then acquired by Rockefeller in 1968 for just under $1 million. This time around, Christie’s expected the work to sell in excess of $90M, and it certainly did… bidding topped out at $102M plus premiums, which added a substantial $13M to the price tag – bringing the final price to $115M.
The aforementioned Monet, Nympheas en fleur, was good for second on the evening. The vibrant canvas was purchased by Rockefeller from Parisian dealer Katia Granoff in 1956 and hung in the stairwell of one of his homes. The work was expected to sell “in the region” of $50M and far surpassed the mark… as I stated earlier, it made $75M but with the premium, that bumped the price to $84.6M which actually set a new auction record for the artist – the previous record was set at $81.4M in 2016.
Rounding out the top three was Matisse’s Odalisque couchee aux magnolias; the work hung in the library of their Manhattan residence adjacent to the $115M Picasso. Prior to last night, the record for Matisse’s work at auction was held by Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose which was part of the Yves Saint Laurent collection sale in 2009 – that work had sold for €35.9 ($46.4M) on an estimate of €12-18M… Rockefeller’s Matisse garnered a significantly more elevated estimate of $50-70M and hammered down just above that at $71.5M ($80.8M with premiums), which obviously set a new record for the artist’s work at auction.
While the sale was essentially all “highlights,” there were a handful of other remaining lots that shined a bit brighter than the rest… Most impressively, two works by Gauguin shattered their estimates – Fleurs dans un vase was expected to sell between $5-7M and found a buyer at $19.4M while La Vague, expected to sell for just $7-10M ended up realizing 31M! Lot number 2 in the sale was Juan Gris’s La table de musician, which topped it’s $18-25M estimate at $31.8M.
On the other hand, there were a few “underperforming” lots… Now, everybody laugh with me as I tell you a $33M Monet underperformed – it was expected at $40-60M. Other underperformers included works by Signac, which realized $13.8M on a $15-25M estimate and Bonnard, which found a buyer at $6.6M on a $10-15M estimate.
Unsurprisingly (as the entire sale was guaranteed), all 44 lots were sold and they more than made up for those “underperforming” lots… presale expectations were in the region of $490M for the entire sale and they easily exceeded that as the sale brought in $646M! Looks like the Rockefeller collection has a serious chance of hitting the $1 billion milestone.