AO Auction Recap – New York: Sotheby’s Taubman Masterworks Sale, November 4th, 2015

November 4th, 2015

Frank Stella, Delaware Crossing (1961), via Sotheby's
Frank Stella, Delaware Crossing (1961), via Sotheby’s

The New York auction weeks are underway in New York, following the conclusion of a lackluster sale at Sotheby’s this evening, where the premier works from the estate of Alfred A. Taubman took the block, spread across a 77-lot auction that saw 8 works fail to find a buyer, including several top lots, while reaching an underwhelming auction tally (given the presale estimate of $500 million) of $377,034,000, with a considerable percentage of works selling well below estimate.

Mark Rothko, UNTITLED (LAVENDER AND GREEN)
Mark Rothko, Untitled (Lavender and Green) (1952), via Rae Wang for Art Observed

The sale began with a languidly executed Jean Arp sculpture, which boasted a relatively high opening lot estimate of $1,200,000-$1,800,000.  It jumped out of the gate well below estimate but climbed quickly to reach its low mark, finally selling for $1,810,000.  A Van Gogh drawing sold below estimate in the next lot, bringing a final of $1.5 million.  Two lots later, Frank Stella’s Delaware Crossing was the first stand-out lot of the evening, rocketing out of the gate to break the artist’s auction record at a $13,690,000.  A Giacometti sculpture was another strong sale at $4.9 million before Picasso’s Tête de Femme was the first pass one lot later, followed by slow but steady bids on the Roy Lichtenstein Female Figure, which brought a final of $6,746,000, within estimate to a phone bidder.

Roy Lichtenstein, Female Figure (1978), via Rae Wang for Art Observed
Roy Lichtenstein, Female Figure (1978), via Rae Wang for Art Observed

In most cases, the sales continued to meet estimates this evening, with a Georgia O’Keefe beating estimate for a final of $2,530,000, before arriving the coveted ModiglianiPaulette Jourdain.  The meticulously balanced portrait climbed quickly, ultimately topping $40 million and finishing at $42,810,000, a few million shy of the artist’s auction record.  A Henry Moore sculpture followed up with strong but considerably smaller returns, beating estimate for a final of $6,746,000.

Pablo Picasso, Femme Assise Sur Une Chaise (938), via Rae Wang for Art Observed
Pablo Picasso, Femme Assise Sur Une Chaise (938), via Rae Wang for Art Observed

Several lots later, another sale highlight, the Willem de Kooning, stalled just below the low estimate, bringing a final price of $24,890,000.  Another lot, Wassily Kandinsky’s Cool Energy, also underperformed, bringing a final price of $1,330,000, as did a Giacomo Balla painting, which halved its estimate for $1,690,000.  The pace picked up again with the evening’s sole Franz Kline, which brought a final of $4.8 million.  Two lots later, a major shock came when a high-priced Degas stalled at $11.5 million and failed to sell.  Several lots later, interest also petered out on the Pablo Picasso Femme Assise Sur Une Chaise, which failed to meet its $25 million low estimate, but reached $20,074,000 after gentle coaxing by auctioneer Oliver Barker.

Amedeo Modigliani, Paulette Jourdain
Amedeo Modigliani, Paulette Jourdain (1919), via Rae Wang for Art Observed

Sales continued to underwhelm as the evening progressed, with a Balthus work going well under its $3 million low estimate for $1,810,000, and another Picasso failing to find a buyer.  A Paul Signac settled just above estimate at $6,410,o00 at lot 30, but another Degas underperformed shortly after, falling shy of its $18mil low estimate for a final of $17,050,000.  A Mark Rothko also stalled one lot later, but reached the $20mil low estimate with a final of $20,410,000.  Hints of a surge came several lots later, as a Georges Braque beat estimates for a $7,194,000 final, followed by Joan Miró’s La Porte, which saw strong interest but ultimately failed to reach its $15mil low estimate, bringing a final of $13,410,000.  A Moholy-Nagy work sold under estimate one lot later, and a Balla work passed, before reaching the impressive Clyfford Still on sale, one of the few top lots to reach its low estimate.  The work ultimately brought a final price of $14,810,000 after a considered, slow competition between bidders.  One lot later, Matisse’s Mlle. Matisse portrait also met estimate, bringing a final price of $13,690,000, solidly within estimate.  A Francis Bacon also met estimate, bringing a final price of $10,330,000, as did a Pablo Picasso canvas two lots later, which saw a final price of $8,650,000.

Willem de Kooning, Untitled XXI
Willem de Kooning, Untitled XXI (1976), via Rae Wang for Art Observed

As the sale entered its late lots, a string of Egon Schiele works saw mixed results, as the first brought a final of $2,890,000, over estimate, while other lots stalled and sold just under the low estimate, and still others passed.  By this point, seats had begun to empty out, save those who stayed to compete for the evening’s second Rothko, a 1962 work that saw sparse bidding and finished under estimate, bringing a final price of $17,610,000.  A Georges Braque also underperformed in the next lot, missing its $12mil low estimate for a final of $8,202,000.  Another major lot, Jasper Johns’s Disappearance I, passed several lots later.  A late highlight came with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, whose La Clownesse Cha-U-Kao sold within estimate for $12,010,000, while a Francis Bacon settled within estimate for $4,842,000.  The auction closed out with a strong Edgar Degas lot, bringing $6,074,000 over a $4mil high, and a Paul Signac, which sold within estimate for $3.5 million.

The sales will continue tomorrow night at Sotheby’s, as the auction house looks to its Impressionist and Modernism sale.

Mark Rothko, NO. 6/SIENNA, ORANGE ON WINE
Mark Rothko, No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine (1962), via Rae Wang for Art Observed

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Sotheby’s Taubman Masterworks Sale [Sotheby’s]