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The Marathon’s Final Leg – Impressionist & Modern

May 13, 2021

Claude Monet

There was a short break after the Contemporary sale, and by about 9:20 pm, the final leg of their marathon event started – those UK staff members must have been drinking a lot of coffee! The auctioneer began by announcing that 11 of 30 works in the sale had irrevocable bids (basically, they were already sold).

fruit on a table

Paul Cezanne

The top lot in the sale was Claude Monet’s Le Bassin aux nymphéas, a large work with an added signature that carried an Estimate on Request notation (whisper number was $40M). The bidding opened at $38M and by the time the action stopped, the work sold for $61M ($70.3M), making it the most expensive piece of the three sessions (it was one of the guaranteed lots). On a side note, the painting last sold in 2004 for $16.8M — a nice return. Paul Cézanne’s Nature morte: pommes et poires carried a hefty estimate of $25-35M, and I guess others felt the same way, as it hammered at $17.15M ($19.9M w/p – the work last sold in 2003 for $8.75M) – making it the second most expensive work in the sale. Amedeo Modigliani’s Jeune fille assise, les cheveux dénoués (Jeune fille en bleu) was expected to bring between $15-20M, but only managed to achieve $14M ($16.4M – this was a guaranteed lot with an irrevocable bid, so it is likely that the guarantor is now the owner). Rounding out the top five were Picasso’s Femme assise en costume vert at $18M ($21M w/p – est. $14-18M – the seller acquired the painting back in 1983 for $568K), and Joan Miró’s Peinture at $10.8M ($12.7M – est. $12-18M – it last sold in 2015 for $12.2M – so the seller took a bit of a loss).

seated woman in a light blue dress

Amedeo Modigliani

For some reason, they decided to include Childe Hassam’s Flags on 57th Street, Winter 1918 (this one belonged in their American sale, which takes place next week). The work was the property of The New-York Historical Society and estimated at $12-18M. There was very little action, but it managed to find a buyer at $10.5M ($12.3M w/p – also a guaranteed lot, so maybe they now own it). While this was an auction record for the artist, I believe that by offering it in next week’s sale, there would have been much more buzz and possibly a higher price – but we will never know.

Among the other lots that did well were Monet’s Fleurs dans un pot (Roses et brouillard) at $8.8M ($10.4M w/p – est. $4-6M – it last sold in 2002 for $3M), Diego Rivera’s Retrato de Columba Domínguez de Fernández – $6.25M ($7.45M w/p – est. $2-3M), a small Renoir nude, Femme nue couchée, at $3.5M ($4.3M w/p – est. $1-1.5M – last sold in December of 2008 for $1M ), and Leonor Fini’s Autoportrait au scorpion, which sparked a battle and sold for $1.9M ($2.3M w/p – est. $600-800K).

By the end of the sale (around 10:30 pm New York time), of the 33 lots, 31 sold (94% sell-through rate), and the sale totaled $188.6M ($221.3M w/p). Their presale estimate range was $167-$219M, so even without the buyer’s premium, they made it. Of the 31 sold works, 13 were below, 12 within, and 6 above their presale ranges, leaving them with an accuracy rate of 38.7% — a reasonable number.

My takeaway from this group of sales is that the salerooms need to spread out the material. While we are not buyers at these levels, I cannot imagine that people in Europe were happy having to stay up all night to place a bid. They should go back to the days when the Impressionist and Contemporary sales were spread out over a two week period. There is just too much material offered in such a short period — it has to impact the prices achieved.