On Friday, October 21st, Christie’s New York continued its series of sales featuring the collection of Ann and Gordon Getty. While the first evening sale on Thursday mainly focused on what Christie’s referred to as “important pictures”, the day sale on Friday featured mainly nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings, and a handful of Old Masters works. The whole sale was a bit of a nail-biter. Many were unsure if enough lots had made their pre-sale estimates for the auction to be successful. But eventually, it pulled through in the end (w/p – with buyer’s premium).
Sadly, eight of the eleven lots with a $1M high estimate or higher sold for far under what Christie’s specialists had predicted. Additionally, some of the works with relatively low estimates were propelled into the top three of the sale. One such painting was the 1918 landscape Paysage avec cyprès et oliviers aux environs de Nice by Henri Matisse. It was the sale’s biggest surprise, only expected to sell for $250K maximum, but achieved $1.8M (or $2.2M w/p). This is more than seven times what experts had predicted, and more than ten times what it had sold for the last time it came up at auction at Christie’s London in 1995. Next up was one of the more highly-valued lots expected to do well during the sale: an 1892 pastoral landscape by Alfred Sisley. Moret-sur-Loing au soleil couchant sold for just over its $1.2M high estimate, with the hammer coming down at $1.3M (or $1.62M w/p). Then, similar to the Matisse, third place went to a complete surprise. Fleurs et livres by Paul Gauguin is a relatively small still-life painting, only measuring 5 x 7.25 inches. Having last sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1995 for $156.5K w/p, the house specialists expected anywhere between $200K and $400K for the Gauguin. However, the bids kept steadily coming in, elevating the final hammer price to more than three times the high estimate at $1.3M (or $1.62M w/p).
For most of the sale, I didn’t really expect Christie’s to meet their total pre-sale estimate because many high-valued lots, as previously mentioned, were selling for drastically underestimate. In an attempt to stir up interest, the pair of auctioneers chose to set the opening bids far lower than expected. For example, Interior of the Teatro San Benedetto by Francesco Guardi was expected to sell for at least $700K. Interest began to die out rather early on, so the work only sold for $440K (or $554.4K w/p). Additionally, Christie’s experts predicted the Edgar Dégas pastel-on-paper work Deux femmes causant would be one of the top lots of the sale, with an $800K low estimate. Maybe it was the stamped signature or a lack of interest in this particular subject, but the drawing only achieved $400K (or $504K w/p). But probably the day’s biggest disappointment came with Camille Pissarro’s landscape Effet de neige à L’Hermitage, Pontoise. This 1875 oil-on-canvas painting was expected to be one of the stars of the sale, with specialists assigning a minimum estimate of $1M. Seeing it sell for only $380K (or $478.8K w/p) was incredibly disheartening.
While many highly valued lots sold for far under their assigned estimate ranges, the fact that they sold at all probably helped regarding the sale’s final outcome. But what really pushed it over the top was a bit of a resurgence in interest toward the end. Fourteen of the last twenty lots sold over their estimates… that included the Gauguin still life, many of the sale’s flower still-life paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour, all three Odilon Redon works, and an interior scene by Winston Churchill. Of the one hundred-five available lots, forty (38%) sold below their estimates. However, thirty-nine exceeded their estimates, while twenty-three sold within. This gave Christie’s a sell-through rate of 97%, while the house specialists earned a 22% accuracy rate. Though I was initially unsure if the sale as a whole would break past its $23.3M minimum pre-sale estimate, the push at the end brought the sales total to a comfortable $27.1M.