AO On Site Auction Results – New York: Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale, November 3, 2009

November 4th, 2009

Danseuses, Edgar Degas (1896) Christies Evening Impressionist Auction New York
Danseuses, Edgar Degas (1896) all images via Christie’s

Last night, November 3, the fall auction season in New York kicked-off at Christie’s with their Impressionist and Modern evening sale – the smallest since May 2004. While vigorous bidding wars ensued for the finer pieces in the sale, there was no escaping the deathly silence that occurred when auctioneer, Christopher Burge, called for bids on a number of the auction highlights which included works by Camille Pissaro, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, that eventually went unsold. Of the 40 lots on sale, 28 sold – making the overall total of $65,674,000, under the low-end estimate of $68,650,000.

More text, images and related links after the jump….


Tamara De Lempicka’s Portrait du Marquis Sommi (1925), which sold to a telephone bidder for $4,338,500 over an estimate of $2–3 million.

Le Baiser, moyen modèle dit "Taille de la Porte" (modèle avec base simplifiée), Auguste Rodin (Conceived in 1880-1881 and cast between 1887-1901)
Le Baiser (The Kiss), Auguste Rodin (Conceived in 1880-1881 and cast between 1887-1901)

At the post-sale press conference, standing in front of Edgar Degas‘s Danseuses, Burge stated that he suspected there to be no obvious pattern to what sold and what didn’t. However, much can be said in reflection of the geographical statistics of buyers. 42% of the total sales were from European buyers, 30% American, 4% Asian with “Other” accounting for 20% of sales. And while the attractive dollar can be held accountable for the large number of Asian and European buyers, the large number of Surrealist and Art Deco-era work, described by Judd Tully, writing for ArtInfo, as “Russian-taste pictures,” on offer could perhaps give reason to the amount of attention from buyers belonging to the “Other” category – an area which encompasses Russian and former Soviet bloc states as well as locations such as the United Arab Emirates.

Rosace, Henri Matisse (1954)
Rosace, Henri Matisse (1954) Estimate: $3,000,000 – $4,000,000. Did not sell.

Among the “Russian-taste pictures” on offer at last night’s auction were two pickings from Tamara De Lempicka and an early Salvador Dali oil painting, Nu dans la plaine de Rosas. Again, speaking at the press conference, Burge noted the very strong prices for the two Lempicka paintings which both greatly exceeded estimates – something that he acknowledges as a trend at Christie’s despite Lempicka’s relative new appearance at the evening sales.


Portrait de le Duchesse de Valmy, Tamara De Lempicka. Pre-sale estimate: $600,000 – $800,000. Sold for $1,370,500.

Dali’s, Nu dans la plaine de Rosas, sold for $4,002,500, the second highest price at auction for the artist. In light of the success of Dali’s work seen at last week’s Prints & Multiples sale at Christie’s – in which all 6 prints by Dali on offer sold quickly and beyond expectation – as acknowledged by Christie’s staff, there is still a strong interest in Dali’s work.

Rodin‘s Le Baiser (The Kiss), an exceedingly rare lifetime cast, was the sale’s top lot, earning $6,354,500 on estimates of $1,500,000 – $2,000,000. The sale of this piece started at a ferocious pace on the phones as well as in the room itself, at one point a confused Burge, in an attempt to keep up with the action, settled himself on the rostrum and cried, “it’s all over the place.” The sale eventually came to a head with a battle between Jeffrey Deitch and the eventual winner, the New York private dealer, Chris Eykyn.

Vétheuil, effet de soleil, Claude Monet (1901)
Vétheuil, effet de soleil, Claude Monet (1901) Estimate $5 – 7 million. Sold for $5,458,500.

Always expected to do well with a pre-sale estimate of $7-9million, Edgar Degas’ pastel drawing Danseuses, sold to an anonymous Asian bidder on the telephone with Ken Yeh, a Deputy Chairman of Christie’s Asia for $10,722,500 – the top sale of the evening. Marc Porter, President of Christie’s Americas, noted that the active bidding on this piece, which was particularly striking on the telephones, indicates the enduring worldwide interest in classic Impressionist pictures.

Despite the optimism of the Christie’s representatives that 70% of their lots were sold, there is no ignoring the 12 distinguished pieces that did not sell – 3 of which had been illuminated at ‘sale highlights.’

Composition II, with Red, Piet Mondrian (1926)
Composition II, with Red, Piet Mondrian (1926) $4,500,000 – $6,500,000 – Did not sell.

Tête de femme, Pablo Picasso (1943) Christie's Evening Sale Auction New York
Tête de femme, Pablo Picasso (1943)

Painted in October 1943, Picasso’s Tete de Femme, a portrait of his muse Dora Maar, was noted by Christie’s specialists as due to its pallet of great saturated primary colors, “unusual” especially for a war-time picture – a period normally associated with somber colors. Tete de Femme was estimated to fetch between $7 and $10 million and so when bids came to a halt at $6.4million questions were inevitably raised about the demand for Modern Art. Lindsay Pollock, writing for Bloomberg, has observed that none of the museum-worthy paintings that were on show at last month’s Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) have yet confirmed buyers.

Le Pont du chemin de fer, Pontoise, Camille Pissarro (c. 1873)
Le Pont du chemin de fer, Pontoise, Camille Pissarro (c. 1873)

While this may be a worthy observation, we must still address the two anticipated paintings by Camille Pissarro Le Pont du chemin de fer, Pontoise and Pommiers à Pontoise, la maison du père Gallien. When questioned about the possible flaws of the painting, Connor Jordan – for whom it was his first sale as Head of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Department – he remarked that he had no explanation for the lack of interest during the sale. However, only one hour after the auction, Jordan was quick to boast that he already had two business cards in his pocket from interested buyers for the Picasso and both Pissarro paintings.

Tonight is Sotheby’s turn to auction an equally impressive array of Modern and Impressionist works; ArtObserved will be on site to report all happenings as they happen.

Related Links:
Christie’s Homepage
Christie’s Amasses $65.67 Million in a Sparse Impressionist Sale [NYTimes]
Picasso Flops as Impressionist Auction Misses Target [Bloomberg]
Degas Pastel is Highlight of Tepid Christie’s Sale [NYTimes]
Fall Auctions Off to a Limp Start at Christie’s [Reuters]
Season Opens Softly at Christie’s [ArtInfo]
Christie’s Sells $66 Million Impressionist Art; Picasso Unsold [Bloomberg]
Christie’s Modern Art Sale Falls Short [WSJ]
Christie’s Imp/Mod Evening Results [ArtMarketMonitor]