On Wednesday April 19th, Sotheby’s Paris hosted a short impressionist and modern art evening sale. The auction consisted of twenty-one lots that took about an hour to get through, mainly made up of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century paintings and drawings, along with some sculptures in bronze by Rodin. In first place, one of the three premium lots as determined by Sotheby’s, was the Portrait of Jeanne Samary by Pierre Auguste Renoir. Created in 1879 and measuring about 16.25 by 12.5 inches, the painting has spent most of its life in the collection of the same aristocratic family line. The portrait’s subject, Jeanne Samary, was a prominent French actress who mainly performed at the Comédie-Française. Renoir created many portraits of her between 1877 and 1881, using her as a model in one of his more famous works, Luncheon of the Boating Party (she can be seen in the upper right-hand corner talking with two men). Expected to sell for no more than €1.5M, Renoir’s portrait sold for €1.65 million / $1.8 million (or €2M / $2.24M w/p).
Behind the Renoir was Verre et Pichet by Pablo Picasso — a still life of a pitcher and a water glass resting on a tabletop. Like some other Picasso works, not only is this painting dated with the year of its creation, but with a specific date; in this case July 24, 1944. Around this time, Picasso was living in German-occupied Paris, with Allied forces closing in on the city. He had just begun a relationship with Françoise Gilot, an art student who would become an accomplished artist in her own right. Sotheby’s specialists predicted that Verre et Pichet would sell for no more than €600K. When the hammer finally came down, it was 83% higher than that, with the still life selling for €1.1M / $1.2M (or €1.38M / $1.5M w/p). And finally, the next lot after the still life was another Picasso painting, dated September 15, 1939. Homme au tricot rayé assis is a sort of gray and beige portrait of a seated man in a striped knitted shirt. Before coming into the seller’s possession, the work once belonged to Jacqueline Roque, Pablo Picasso’s wife between 1961 and his death in 1973. This work, made of gouache on paper, is one of ten portraits of male figures in striped knitted shirts. Picasso created all of them across four days in September 1939, making some with gouache and others with oil paint. Homme au tricot rayé assis sold for €800K / $876.3K (or €1M / $1.1M w/p), falling nicely within its estimate range between €700K and €1M.
Despite a 43% accuracy rate for the specialists, the Paris impressionist and modern evening sale underperformed slightly. All twenty-one lots were predicted to bring in a total of at least €7.68M, but unfortunately, the auction ended up making somewhat less than that, bringing in €6.71M / $7.35M. If there’s one thing to blame, it’s one lot that went unsold early in the sale. Claude Monet’s landscape Vétheuil is another one of the lots designated as premium by Sotheby’s. It is a large, light-colored scene, created around 1901 or 1902, showing the eponymous northern French town, which sits on the banks of the Seine about 37 miles northwest of Paris. Vétheuil was predicted to be the sale’s top lot, with an assigned estimate range of €2M to €3M. However, interest that day puttered out at €1.7M, failing to reach its reserve.