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Gauguin Flowers to Top $169 Million Sale; Hirst Skull: Art Buzz

"Nature morte a 'L'Esperance'" by Paul Gauguin was included in the auction of 78 Impressionist and modern works at Christie's International in London on Feb. 9. The canvas, painted by Gauguin in Tahiti as a tribute to his friend Vincent van Gogh, was expected to sell for between 7 million pounds and 10 million pounds and failed to find a buyer. Source: Christie's Images via Bloomberg

A Paul Gauguin still life is the most highly estimated of the works that may raise as much as 109 million pounds ($169 million) at a London auction next month.

The 1901 study of sunflowers in a vase was made in Tahiti as a tribute to Gauguin’s friend Vincent van Gogh. “Nature morte a ‘L’Esperance,’” owned by an unidentified European collector, is estimated at between 7 million pounds and 10 million pounds at Christie’s International’s 78-lot evening sale of Impressionist, modern and Surrealist art on Feb. 9.

The event’s minimum valuation of 73.9 million pounds is the second-highest estimate Christie’s has placed on such a sale in the U.K. capital. Last year, trophy-quality Impressionist and modern pieces made up seven out of the 10 priciest lots at auction. These were led by Pablo Picasso’s 1932 “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” which fetched $106.5 million, a record for any artwork in a salesroom, at Christie’s, New York, on May 4.

“Top-quality Impressionist and modern works attract a consensus of buyers,” Giovanna Bertazzoni, director and head of Impressionist and Modern Art, Christie’s London, said. “This is where Chinese, Russian, Middle Eastern, American and European buyers meet. These works aren’t political, they’re easy on the eye and they have a sense of stability.”

Gauguin’s canvas has been shown in more than 20 museum exhibitions, including the artist’s first retrospective, held at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1906. The work was last seen on the market in 1996, when it failed at Christie’s New York against an estimate of $7 million to $10 million. The collector later acquired the painting via a private treaty sale.

Derain, Braque

Other stand out works in Christie’s February event include Andre Derain’s 1905 Fauvist landscape, “Bateaux a Collioure,” valued at 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds; and Georges Braque’s 1938 still life, “Nature morte a la guitare (rideaux rouge),” estimated at 3.5 million pounds to 5.5 million pounds.

The latter is one of four works in the auction being sold by the Art Institute of Chicago, Christie’s said. The works are being offered to benefit funds for acquisitions, the museum said in an e-mail.

Christie’s equivalent event last year, comprising 85 lots, was estimated at 56.5 million pounds to 80.8 million pounds. It raised 76.8 million pounds.

Hong Kong Hirst

Gagosian Gallery, the world’s biggest commercial art dealership, is inaugurating a new space in Hong Kong with a second diamond skull by Damien Hirst.

“For Heaven’s Sake” -- a life-size human baby skull cast in platinum and covered in 8,128 pave-set white and pink stones -- will be the centerpiece of an exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by Hirst opening at Gagosian’s gallery at 12 Pedder Street on Jan. 18.

The work, dating from 2008, was cast from an original child’s skull in a 19th-century pathology collection that was acquired by Hirst. The artist’s first diamond-encrusted memento mori sculpture, “For the Love of God,” made from an adult, is currently on show at the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

“Diamonds are about perfection and clarity and wealth and sex and death and immortality,” Hirst said today in a statement e-mailed by Gagosian Gallery. “They are a symbol of everything that’s eternal, but then they have a dark side as well.”

Hong Kong is the 11th gallery space to be opened by Larry Gagosian since founding his company in Los Angeles in 1979. Last year the U.S. dealer, 65, opened branches in Geneva and Paris, was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur and topped Art Review’s Power 100 list.

Butterfly Paintings

The Hirst exhibition in Hong Kong, titled “Forgotten Promises,” will include a new series of “Butterfly Fact Paintings” derived from close-up photographs. Other works continue the artist’s trademark practices of embedding short-lived insects in gloss paint and encasing diamonds in cabinets.

The prices of these works -- and of the skull -- are confidential, said Erica Bolton, co-founder of the London-based public relations agency Bolton & Quinn Ltd., which is representing Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong.

“For the Love of God” was priced at a record 50 million pounds when first exhibited by Hirst’s London gallery White Cube in June 2007, at the height of the art boom.

In August of that year, Frank Dunphy, who was then the artist’s business manager, announced that the skull had been bought by an investment group. The purchasers would be required to show the sculpture for two or three years in museums around the world, he said. The investors in the buying group included the artist, Dunphy told Bloomberg News at the time.

“Forgotten Promises” will continue at Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, through March 19.

(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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