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Sotheby’s Makes $155 Million as Record Schiele Boosts Auction

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"Portrait of Wally"
"Portrait of Wally" (1912) by Egon Schiele. The Leopold Museum in Vienna paid $19 million in a settlement, ending a decades-long dispute between the museum and the heirs of Jewish art dealer, Lea Bondi Jaray. Source: Leopold Museum via Bloomberg

June 23 (Bloomberg) -- Sotheby’s last night raised $155 million from a London auction of just 35 lots, led by a townscape by Egon Schiele that sold for an artist record.

Collectors responded to a limited supply of Impressionist and modern artworks by raising bids. The Austrian Expressionist’s 1914 canvas “Houses With Laundry (Suburb II)” was offered by the Leopold Museum, Vienna, to pay for the settlement of one of the world’s longest-running art restitution cases. It made 24.7 million pounds ($40 million).

“The supply of Impressionist and modern works is dwindling,’’ said the London-based dealer Stephen Ongpin. “That’s pushing up competition for fresh pieces that appear. Sotheby’s made the most of a tight sale.’’

Bidders are eager to buy the best works and happy to pass on others. Sotheby's selection meant only three lots were unsuccessful. The event was slimmed down from 51 lots in the equivalent sale last year. It contrasted with Tuesday’s sale of 92 works at Christie’s International, which raised 140 million pounds with a Monet work as a high-profile failure.

The Schiele was one of three works that bore third-party price guarantees. It sold to a single telephone bid from Mark Poltimore, Sotheby’s London-based head of Russian art, against the unidentified guarantor, also bidding by phone. The painting had been estimated to sell for a minimum of 22 million pounds.

The previous auction high for Schiele was the $22.4 million paid for another townscape at Christie’s International in New York in November 2006. Oils by this short-lived artist (1890-1918) rarely come on sale, said dealers.

Sellers' Market

“There’s very little coming on the market at the moment,’’ said Heinrich zu Hohenlohe, director of Dickinson Roundell Inc. in Berlin. “If they can afford it, people are hanging on to their art. It’s a good time to sell.’’

The Alberto Giacometti bronze “Trois hommes qui marchent II” also bore an “irrevocable bid.” The 1948 sculpture, from an edition of nine, was entered by a U.S. collector. It sold to the New York dealer Franck Giraud in the room for 10.7 million pounds. Its presale low estimate of 10 million pounds reflected the 9.4 million pounds paid for a version of “Trois hommes qui marchent I” at Sotheby’s London in June 2008.

As at Christie’s, paintings by Pablo Picasso -- the market’s ultimate trophy name -- generated hefty prices. The 1969 canvas “Couple, Le Baiser,’’ fetched 6.5 million pounds and the 1967 “Homme a la pipe et nu couche’’ a double-estimate 4.8 million pounds, both to buyers in the room.

Tamara de Lempicka’s 1930 “La Dormeuse,” a painting of an Art Deco beauty and also with a third-party guarantee, attracted four phone bidders before selling for 4.1 million pounds, beating a top estimate of 3.2 million pounds. The price, when converted to U.S. dollars, was an artist record, Sotheby’s said.

The auction made 97 million pounds with fees, against an estimate of 77.3 million pounds to 111.2 million pounds.

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

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at sreyburn@hotmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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