Italian Art Lures U.S. Buyers; Duke’s Sale Raises $10.3 Million

"Achrome" a kaolin-on-canvas work by Piero Manzoni. It is included in Christie's International's auction of Italian 20th century art in London. Source: Christie's Images via Bloomberg

U.S. collectors are likely to buy at least half the lots at next week’s sales of 20th-century Italian art in London that carry a record minimum valuation of 26.5 million pounds ($42 million), auction houses said.

The events bolster offerings of works by younger contemporaries that coincide with the Frieze fair.

Christie’s International estimates its 45-lot Oct. 14 auction of pieces by artists such as Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Alighiero Boetti will raise at least 14.3 million pounds. Sotheby’s equivalent 35-lot Italian sale the following evening has a low estimate of 12.2 million pounds.

Both forecasts are the highest for their respective departments. U.S.-based buyers such as the Dallas-based Howard Rachofsky have boosted the market for 20th-century Italian art at a time when auction prices of some fashionable contemporary names dropped as much as 50 percent.

“We expect at least half of the sale to go to America,” said Mariolina Bassetti, Christie’s Italian-based head of contemporary art. “Back in 2007, 50 percent would be bought by Italians with about 30 percent going to the U.S.”

With prices for Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons increasing in multiples during the art boom, postwar classics by Fontana and Manzoni appeared better value for money, she said. “Italian art is cheap compared to American. You can buy the best for a lot less. Prices have risen more slowly and there hasn’t been as much speculation,” Bassetti said.

Christie’s is offering a 1958-59 Manzoni “Achrome” relief and a 1983 Boetti embroidered “Mappa,” with low estimates of 1.35 million pounds and 700,000 pounds respectively.

Sotheby’s has eight works by Fontana, led by a 1959 green and gold five-cut “Concetto Spaziale” canvas estimated at 2 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds.

Chatsworth Sale

The Duke of Devonshire has raised 6.5 million pounds ($10.3 million) with fees by clearing out the attics of his ancestral home at Chatsworth, Derbyshire.

Sotheby’s three-day auction, held in a tented structure in the grounds of the house, ended yesterday with 98 percent of the 1,417 offered lots finding buyers. The event had been estimated to raise a minimum of 2.5 million pounds. The first day of the sale included some of the William Kent-designed fittings from Devonshire House, an early 18th-century mansion in London’s Piccadilly that was demolished in the 1920s.

A George II white marble chimneypiece, possibly designed by Kent, was the most expensive piece at the auction, selling for 565,250 pounds against a high estimate of 300,000 pounds.

As at all “attic clear-out” auctions, many lots sold for multiples of their estimates. A Victorian paper knife engraved “Chatsworth” fetched 2,750 pounds against a low estimate of 40 pounds. A New Zealand Maori jade pendant fetched 45,650 pounds. This had been estimated to sell for at least 7,000 pounds.

Allosaurus Skeleton

A skeleton of an Allosaurus, a three-tonne dinosaur that lived about 150 million years ago, sold for 1.3 million euros ($1.8 million) at an auction in Paris.

The 33 foot-long specimen, discovered in Wyoming and 70 percent complete, was included in Sotheby’s inaugural natural history auction in France, held on Oct. 5. It was bought by a European bidder, beating an estimate of 800,000 euros to 1 million euros. The price that was an auction record for any dinosaur sold in Europe, said Sotheby’s.

The record for any dinosaur at auction is the $8.4 million paid by the Field Museum, Chicago, for a complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton at Sotheby’s, New York, in 1997.

Roman Helmet

A Roman cavalry helmet that sold yesterday in London 2.3 million pounds, 10 times its estimate, had also been dug out of the ground, though this time with the aid of a metal detector.

The “Crosby Garrett Helmet” had been found in Cumbria, North England, in May this year.

The bronze cavalry parade helmet, modeled with a face-mask visor in the form of a human face, was included in Christie’s auction of antiquities. It was one of three such Roman helmets to have been discovered in the U.K.

The Cumbria-based Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery was one of five underbidders, having been pledged 1 million pounds by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The museum may yet secure the helmet if the unidentified telephone buyer lives abroad and requires an export license, Stephen Deuchar, director of the U.K.-based Art Fund, said.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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