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Saved The Best For Last – Christie’s 20th Century Evening

May 19, 2021
Picasso - Femme Assise Pres d'une Fenetre

Picasso – Femme Assise Pres d’une Fenetre

Finishing off the week of big Spring sales was Christie’s 20th Century, which featured an impressive lineup; offerings included works by Monet, Rothko, Giacometti, Warhol, Picasso, Mondrian, and a slew of other big names. As you can see 20th Century blends Post-War works with Impressionist & Modern, which in previous years were split. (w.p = with the buyer’s premium)

Monet - Waterloo Bridge, Effet de Brouillard

Monet – Waterloo Bridge, Effet de Brouillard

The top spot went to an unsigned painting by Picasso that was inherited from the artist’s estate by his granddaughter, Marina Picasso. The work has bounced around a bit, selling in 1997 for just $6.8M, and most recently again in 2013 for $44.7M. This time around, they were expecting somewhere around $55M… but this lot touched off a bidding war that lasted more than 20 minutes! When the action settled, the hammer fell at $90M ($103.4M w.p) – the first auction piece to hit 9 figures since the pre-pandemic days. Taking second was another lot with an unpublished estimate – Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard, which was supposedly expected to bring $35M. They were not far off as it hammered at $42M, but when you add in the premium, it bumps this one up to $48.5M. The last time this one was up for sale, it also topped the estimate, but that was back in 1999 – at that time, the work brought $9.3M on a $4-6M estimate. Rounding out the top 3 was a work by Vincent van Gogh – Le Pont de Trinquetaille. Painted in 1888, this canvas has changed hands more than a dozen times and includes provenance dating back to the artist… it was first acquired by his brother Theo the year it was painted. Most unfortunately, his brother passed away just a few years later; by 1906, the work was in the hands of a private collection. Last time it was up for auction in 2004, it sold for $11.2M on a $12-18M estimate… interestingly however, it had sold just a few years before that for $15.4M on an undisclosed $20M estimate – all three times the work was sold at Christie’s New York, so I guess they’re the real winners here.

van Gogh - Le Pont de Trinquetaille

van Gogh – Le Pont de Trinquetaille

Rounding out the top 5 were works by Rothko and Mondrian… both had an estimate on request. Rothko’s Untitled was said to be $40M range, whereas the Mondrian was expected to be close to $25M. Both hammered below expectations, with the Rothko hammering at $33M ($38.1M w.p) and the Mondrian hammering at $24M ($27.8M w.p). All that said, the sellers probably had very different views of the evening… the Rothko was acquired in 2013 for $39.9M (Sotheby’s NY on a $15-20M estimate), but the Mondrian was purchased for just $882K back in 1993!

Wayne Thiebaud - Toweling Off

Wayne Thiebaud – Toweling Off

There were a couple of surprising results on the evening – Wayne Thiebaud’s Toweling Off came in with a $1.2-1.8M estimate but saw spirited bidding push the price to $8.49M (w.p) or 372% above estimate! A work by Alice Neil, which was interestingly slotted into the sale at the last minute, also far surpassed its estimate of $600-800K; it sold for $3M or 279% above estimate. On the other hand, there were a few that went way lower than expected… the most catastrophic of the few was a sculpture by Joan Miro with a $7-10M estimate. It was a posthumous cast from 1994 – bidding topped out at $3.4M ($4.1M w.p), which is 51% below estimate. A large canvas by Jean Dubuffet shared a similar fate as it went 31% below estimate – $2.75M ($3.3M w.p) on a $4-6M estimate. There was also one left unsold; a Toulouse-Lautrec lithograph with a $500-700K estimate… bidding sputtered at $420K.

At the end of the evening, 50 of the 51 works offered found buyers (one was withdrawn as well). They had 15 works fetch prices above estimate (29%), and 15 works find buyers below estimate (29%), with 19 lots falling within their range – a solid 37% accuracy rate. The total hammer for the sale was $415.9M, but when you add the premiums, that bumps the sale to $481.1M. Given they were expecting between $346.7-428.7, I’m thinking most were pretty happy with how the evening played out.