Henri Matisse’s life-size bronze of a woman’s back sold for $48.8 million, an auction record for the artist, as Christie’s International’s New York Impressionist and modern art sale sustained a recovery from last year’s recession.
As collector and SAC Capital Advisors LP Founder Steven A. Cohen watched from a sky box, last night’s two-hour auction totaled $231.4 million with commissions, slightly above Christie’s $198.3 million low estimate, which doesn’t include the buyers’ premiums. The result was triple Christie’s year-ago tally of $74.2 million.
Dealers said the sale was strong for quality items, with 80 percent of the 84 lots finding buyers, similar to the previous night’s sale at Sotheby’s, which totaled $227.6 million, led by a $69 million Amedeo Modigliani nude.
“We are in a happier place,” said New York dealer Maxwell Davidson IV, after the sale. “There is not as much doom and gloom. If there’s quality, you can sell it.”
Davidson bought a $1.4 million pink Wassily Kandinsky watercolor and a blue Picasso watercolor for $818,500.
The Matisse, from an edition of 10, was conceived in 1930 and cast in 1978, 24 years after the artist’s death. Dealer Larry Gagosian bought it for an unnamed client.
The artist’s previous auction record was $45.9 million for a floral still life, at Christie’s in Paris last year. He made four versions of his celebrated back series, tinkering from 1908 to 1931, with the forms becoming gradually more abstract. Major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern and the Centre Georges Pompidou, all own complete sets of the four.
‘Starving for Quality’
“There was healthy, healthy bidding for star material,” said New York dealer John Driscoll of Babcock Galleries, who bought a small Georges Seurat painting for $2.1 million. “People are starving for quality material.”
Still, the sale result was below the $335.5 million of Impressionist and modern art Christie’s sold in May, which was boosted by a $106.5 million Picasso.
Henry Kravis was one of yesterday’s top sellers. Hours after the buyout firm he co-founded reported a 61 percent drop in quarterly profit, Kravis sold $50 million of art, people familiar with the transactions said. Kravis parted with four works, including a 1913 cubist Juan Gris painting of a fragmented violin and guitar. The canvas sold for a record auction price of $28.6 million to an anonymous European collector.
The four works said to belong to Kravis were described by Christie’s as hailing from “a distinguished private collection.” A KKR spokeswoman didn’t return an e-mail last night seeking comment.
The group of works included a mysterious 1927 hunter-green interior by Swiss painter Paul Klee, selling for $5 million, and Joan Miro’s yellow and blue 1938 “L’Air,” populated by biomorphic forms floating in the sky, for $10.3 million. A Picasso drawing of a man’s head made $6.1 million.
The estate of Los Angeles computer pioneer Max Palevsky contributed a pair of Fernand Leger paintings of cubist-inspired, proto-robotic women. A 1927 crouching nude, set against a tomato red field, “Femme sur fond rouge, femme assise,” fetched $6.4 million from private dealer Daniella Luxembourg. A second Leger, of a woman stirring a cup of tea, sold for $8.1 million.
The sale had 10 Picassos, including the evening’s biggest casualty. The 1921 “Maternite,” featuring a boxy woman cradling a child and rendered in a muted palette of flesh tones on gray and white, was estimated to sell for as much as $10 million. The painting, from the estate of “Dick Tracy” radio producer Himan Brown, failed to find a buyer.
Next week, contemporary art goes on the block, including a Roy Lichtenstein painting owned by Steve Wynn, “Ohhh... Alright...” (1964), that Christie’s estimates will fetch $40 million. Lichtenstein’s current auction record is $16.3 million.
Christie’s charges buyers 25 percent of the hammer price up to $50,000, plus 20 percent from $50,000 to $1 million, and 12 percent above $1 million.
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