Christie’s International held its smallest New York evening Impressionist and modern art sale in 2 1/2 years, at the outset of an auction fortnight expected to total as much as $1.5 billion.
Last night’s sale tallied $117.1 million, in the middle of the presale range of $90.5 million to $130.2 million. Three of the 31 lots failed to sell in an auction of less than an hour, the quickest in years.
Two paintings tied for top lot, at $19.1 million: Paul Cezanne’s watercolor “Joueur de Cartes” (“Card Player”) and a lush flower bouquet painted by Henri Matisse in 1907, “Les Pivoines.”
Christie’s equivalent auction in November had 82 lots and tallied $140.8 million.
“We all know it’s very difficult to get great Impressionist and modern work,” said New York art dealer Asher Edelman. “The contemporary options are much better.”
The Cezanne came from the estate of Texas collector Heinz Felix Eichenwald and landed near the high estimate of $20 million, with commission. It’s one of seven drawings and watercolors known to exist that Cezanne made as studies for his five famous “Card Players” paintings.
In February, Vanity Fair magazine reported that the royal family of Qatar paid more than $250 million for the “Card Players” owned by the late Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos. The four other versions are in museum collections.
Last year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York dedicated an exhibition to the creation of the series, uniting for the first time the paintings and the studies.
The Matisse, with a rich exhibition history that includes the Venice Biennale in 1950 and museums throughout Europe, surged past its $12 million high estimate.
The sale included six paintings by Pablo Picasso, all but one landed among the 10 priciest lots of the evening.
The group was led by a jewel-like 1932 portrait “Le Repos,” depicting his muse and lover Marie-Therese Walter. It fetched $9.9 million, above the $7 million high estimate.
His “Femme Assise” fetched $5.2 million, topping the $3.5 million high estimate. Dated March 31, 1953, it shows a woman in a green top, probably Francoise Gilot, who left him that month. Gilot’s life with Picasso, from 1943 to 1953, is the subject of an exhibition at Gagosian gallery that opens today.
Claude Monet’s hazy 1894 landscape with haystacks, “Les Demoiselles de Giverny,” sold for $9.6 million, just over the low estimate of $9 million.
“It wasn’t a tremendously exciting sale except for one or two things,” art dealer David Nash said.
Buyers may have been conserving resources for tonight. Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art sale stars a version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” estimated at more than $80 million.
Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on dining and Greg Evans on film.