On Tuesday and Thursday, June 28th and 30th, Christie’s London held a duo of sales dedicated exclusively to the work of Marc Chagall. The Tuesday sale consisted of twenty paintings, while the Thursday auction was an online sale of seventy-five prints. All the featured works came from the artist’s estate, and both sales did exceptionally well. All but two of the twenty available lots in the first sale sold above the specialists’ estimates. The two top lots performed more or less the way the experts expected: the 1984 oil and tempera on canvas work Le peintre et les mariés aux trois couleurs sold for £1.3M / $1.59M (or £1.6M / $1.96M w/p), falling nicely within its original £1M to £2M estimate. Not long after, Le peintre, la mariée et son tableau ou Couple et violoniste sold for £1.1M / $1.34M (or £1.36M / $1.66M w/p), just a hair short of its £1.2M minimum estimate.
The third-place lot came as a bit of a surprise. The 1962 work entitled A Vava Chagall, citoyenne d’honneur des Collines à Vence is made from pastel, gouache, and India ink on vellum laid on panel. Though thought to go for around £80K to £120K, the work is quintessential Chagall. Chagall features like flowers, animals, and almost floating human figures all have their place in this relatively small piece, measuring only 18 by 23 inches. But the most notable feature is the brilliant pastel colors, showing influence from Fauvist art. Bidders launched the hammer price past the high estimate and finally peaked at more than three times what the specialists had expected. The hammer came down at £430K / $525K (or £541.8K / $661.6K w/p).
Though it was a nice surprise, it was by no means the biggest one that day. Chagall’s 1978 painting Les mariés guidés par le roi David was originally meant to sell for £60K maximum. It may not have the bright colors Chagall’s works often do, but it still is easily identifiable as being made by him: a crowned figure meant to represent King David points a group of figures toward a city. Among these figures is a violinist, a common image in Chagall’s work… so much so that Chagall’s paintings, like The Green Violinist and The Fiddler, served as one of the inspirations behind the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof. The violinist accompanies a Jewish married couple, identified as such by the red chuppah wedding canopy situated above the pair. So even though the painting is mainly grey with some gold accents, it has all the things you would want in a work by Marc Chagall. Some buyers saw the work’s potential since it sold for more than four times the maximum estimate at £260K / $318.1K (or £327.6K / $400.8K w/p).
In total, the Tuesday sale brought in £7.8M (or $9.5M), nearly £1.3M more than what Christie’s specialists were expecting. This certainly set some high expectations for the Thursday online sale. While both sales exceeded specialists’ expectations, the online sale did particularly well regarding how often the specialists accurately predicted each item’s hammer price. That is, except for the top lots. While specialists predicted nothing would go for more than £60K, Chagall’s lithograph Le magicien de Paris brought in two-and-a-half times its high estimate when the hammer came down at £150K / $154.5K (or £189K / $229.2K w/p). A few moments later, another L’Auge II lithograph sold for £55K / $66.7K (or £69.3K / $84K w/p), over three times the original £15K estimate.
In total, the online sale brought in £825K (or $1M), over £100K more than what was expected. But what was especially noteworthy was how Christie’s experts accurately predicted the hammer prices for forty-seven of the seventy-five available works or about sixty-three percent. Twenty-four lots sold above estimate, while only two works sold under estimate, and another two went unsold.