Sotheby’s Paris had remarkable back-to-back days at the end of March. They had the second half of the Robert and Nadine Schmit collection on Thursday. The following day, they held their modern and impressionist online sale, full of great surprises (w/p = with buyer’s premium). The top spot went to En revenant des Champs by Gustave van de Woestyne. The man and woman looking over their shoulders at the viewer, put onto canvas by a relatively obscure Belgian expressionist, sold for €240K / $263.7K (or €302.4K / $332.3K w/p). While it had the highest hammer price of the sale, it sold for just short of its minimum pre-sale estimate of €250K.
Some other high price tags included that of Jean Metzinger’s Figure et chevaux de proue. The large oil on canvas painting was stunning, showing the nude torso of a woman decorating the bow of a ship. Gold completely envelops her, including the gold detailing of the ship’s bow, a golden starfish resting on her hand, and something draped over her arms and around her back resembling a golden, scaled boa scarf. Her hair is also gold, which I originally mistook for golden laurels sitting atop her head. Despite the title saying horses accompany her, the two equine figures flanking her are actually hippocampi, a half-horse half-fish combination from Greek mythology. This is a quite fitting continuation of the nautical theme. All three figures are completely white, making them almost seem like they’re sculpted from marble on the façade of a Greek temple or an Art Deco skyscraper. Metzinger’s painting eventually sold for €190K / $208.7K (or €239.4K / $263K w/p).
Third place was actually a tie between a sculpture and a painting. Tête, oiseau by Joan Miró sold for €150K / $164.7K (or €189K / $207.6K w/p), while a Marc Chagall painting called La Danse reached the same price. Both are very typical works for their respective artists. The Miró bronze was spotted with patches of green oxidation, most noticeable where the artist made a very simplistic frowning face right in the middle of the rough, round sculpture. The Chagall work, done with gouache and pencil on paper, shows a pair of figures dancing, almost floating over a river, with several smaller figures surrounding the Eiffel tower off to the side. It may not be as striking or colorful as some other works by the artist of the same name, but it’s still exemplary of the fantasy, or rather the dream sequence snapshots, that Chagall often made the subject of his works.
There were also a few surprises along the way, where the Sotheby’s specialists dramatically underestimated how much some buyers would be willing to drop that day. In the middle of the sale, works by Berthe Morisot (est. €12K to €18K; €55K / $60.4K hammer, or €69.3K / $76.1K w/p) and Paul Sérusier (est. €1K to €1.5K; €5K / $5.5K hammer, or €6.3K / $6.9K w/p) reached triple their high estimates. But the real shock came a little while later when Jane Graverol’s 1959 oil-on-board painting La déesse raison went across the block. While only estimated to sell for anywhere between €2.6K and €3.5K, the work by the Belgian surrealist climbed up and up until it reached a hammer price of €38K / $41.8K (or €47.8K / $52.6K w/p), nearly eleven times the high estimate. This was also an auction record for Jane Graverol. Her highest-valued work before La déesse raison was her 1954 oil-on-board work La chair de vérité, which similarly blew away its meager £3K to £5K estimate at a 2018 Sotheby’s sale with a £18K / $25.7K hammer price.
In total, ninety-three of the one hundred forty-one lots, or about two-thirds, hit or exceeded their estimates. Thirty-five lots were either bought in or withdrawn. The lots that did sell took in €3.2M / $3.5M, or a little over €4M / $4.5M w/p. This falls nicely into the €2.9M to €4.1M (or $3.2M to $4.5M) pre-sale estimate Sotheby’s specialists gave.