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Bonhams Paris Impressionist & Modern Sale

December 8, 2023
Bernard Buffet's seascape showing a large yacht moored in the harbor next to a thin lighthouse on the right

Yacht et phare by Bernard Buffet

Thursday, December 7th, saw a wave of action across the London and Paris auction houses. Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams all hosted sales ranging from antiquities to Old Masters to early twentieth-century work. It also marked the last day at the podium for Christie’s global president and auctioneer, Jussi Pylkkänen, who presided over the London old masters sale. However, the dark spot on Thursday occurred at the Bonhams location in Paris, where the Impressionist & Modern sale occurred. A relatively small sale of fifty-one lots is often nothing to write home about. Bonhams’ impressionist and modern sales often do relatively well. However, they made a slight error that doomed the sale. The average minimum estimate for this sale was around €30K. Thirty of the fifty-one available lots had minimum estimates at €10K or below. While the number of unsold lots was a little high but nothing drastic, two in particular were expected to sell for hundreds of thousands of euros, yet were bought in and tanked the sale. The first of these two was a self-portrait by the Japanese-French painter Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita. Bonhams expected the 1928 oil-on-canvas painting of the artist and his cat to sell for at least €350K. Secondly, there was Le lézard aux plumes d’or by Joan Miró. Made from gouache, ink, and pencil on paper created on June 2, 1969, the work is very typical of the Catalan artist’s use of bold lines and colors. It was expected to sell for at least €280K but also went unsold.

A seascape showing the entrance to a harbor at low tide.

Trouville, le lougre échoué by Eugène Boudin

These two works being bought in allowed the ships to shine. All three top lots were nautical paintings by very different artists a century apart. Bernard Buffet’s 1968 oil painting Yacht et phare is the neo-expressionist artist’s take on a large ship moored in a harbor beside a thin lighthouse. Expected to sell for between €70K and €90K, the Buffet felt nicely in between at €80K / $86.3K (or €102K / $110.1K w/p). Following the Buffet, the remaining top lots were paintings by the nineteenth-century French marine painter Eugène Boudin. Though created over twenty years apart, both were scenes from the same location. Trouville-sur-Mer is a small town on the coast in Normandy, at the mouth of the river Touques, with Deauville lying on the opposite bank. Boudin often returned to the Deauville-Trouville area as a vacation destination and a subject for his canvases. He ended up building a house there in 1884, known now as the Villa Breloque, where he died in 1898. Boudin painted Trouville, le lougre échoué in 1897 when the area was already a popular resort town with lavish hotels and casinos. It shows a small sailing ship in the harbor at low tide, with the twin lighthouses at its mouth in the background. The other painting, Bateaux de pêche devant Trouville, is from earlier in Boudin’s career, dating to the mid-1870s. Both canvases were estimated to sell for €45K to €65K and sold within estimate; the first at €50K / $53.9K (or €63.9K / $68.9K w/p), the second at €45K / $48.6K (or €57.5K / $62.1K w/p).

A seascape with several sailing ships in the foreground and background on a partly cloudy day.

Bateaux de pêche devant Trouville by Eugène Boudin

Though the sale was a little disappointing overall, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t without its surprises. Particularly, a pair of sketches by Hans Bellmer probably woke some people up halfway through the sale. Both are untitled, and dedicated to the artist’s acquaintances. Bonhams specialists predicted the first to sell for at least €5K and the second for €6K. The drawings eventually sold for €16K and €20K, respectively.

Of the fifty-one available lots, twenty-five sold within estimate, giving the specialists at Bonham’s a 49% accuracy rate. Only one lot (2%) sold below, and five (10%) sold above. While this can often signify a rather successful sale, twenty lots (39%) went unsold. Because the Foujita and the Miró are included among the lots bought in, they absolutely wrecked the sale’s final dollar amount… or rather, euro amount. The specialists expected the fifty-one lots to bring in at least €1.39 million. Ultimately, they just barely hit €445.1K / $480.4K.