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Modigliani’s Lover Boosts $237 Million Christie’s Auction

'Jeanne Hebuterne (au Chapeau)'
"Jeanne Hebuterne (au Chapeau)" (1919) by Amedeo Modigliani, a painting of the artist's common-law wife. It was sold in a 78-lot auction of Impressionist and modern works at Christie's International in London on Feb. 6. The price was 26.9 million pounds ($42.1 million). Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2013 via Bloomberg

Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- A Modigliani portrait of his lover may sell for as much as $35.5 million at an auction that will test demand for big-ticket Impressionist and modern artworks.

Christie’s International in London on Feb. 6 will auction the Italian artist’s 1919 portrait “Jeanne Hebuterne (au chapeau),” showing his common-law wife sitting on a wooden chair. The artist died, at the age of 35, on Jan. 24, 1920. A grief-stricken Hebuterne committed suicide the following day, killing their unborn child.

Amedeo Modigliani is one of the Europe’s most highly valued modernist artists. Though Impressionist and modern art continues to command high prices, this heavily traded collecting field suffers from a shortage of market-fresh masterworks, hampering value growth. Auctions of more-fashionable contemporary pieces are attracting a bigger percentage of new buyers, dealers said.

The 78-lot sale of Impressionist and Surrealist works may raise as much as 146.6 million pounds ($237 million). The low estimate of 98.4 million pounds ($159 million) is 12 million pounds higher than at the equivalent mixed-owner sale last year.

The Modigliani was included in a posthumous retrospective of his works in Venice in 1922. It was bought for 16.4 million pounds at Sotheby’s, London, in June 2006 by the New York collector who is now offering it for sale with a formal upper estimate of 22 million pounds.

Matisse, Picasso

Among the other highlights at this Christie’s auction, Henri Matisse’s 1938 gouache “La danse,” related to the famous 1910 painting now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, is priced at 2.2 million pounds to 3.4 million pounds. This same work-on-paper sold for 2.3 million pounds at the company’s London salesroom in February 2007.

Pablo Picasso’s muscular nude “Nu accroupi,” painted on Valentine’s Day, 1960, failed to sell when offered at auction for $2.5 million to $3 million in 1998. Picasso’s late paintings have since been re-evaluated, particularly by collectors of contemporary art, and it is being re-offered with an estimate of 3 million pounds to 5 million pounds.

Surrealism, which also appeals to contemporary-art collectors, is the one area of the Impressionist and Modern market that has shown significant price growth in recent years.

Christie’s 41-lot Surrealist section carries a low estimate of 30.9 million pounds, 50 percent more than last year. The category continues to throw up high quality works that have never been offered at auction.

Joan Miro’s 1939 painting “L’Echelle de l’evasion (The Ladder of Escape)” hasn’t been seen in public for more than 50 years and is estimated at 5 million pounds to 8 million pounds.

Owners of valuable Miro paintings have been encouraged to sell, following the record 23.6 million pounds paid for the Spanish artist’s 1927 abstract “Peinture (Etoile Bleue)” at Sotheby’s, London, last June.

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

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on dining, Lewis Lapham on history, Jeremy Gerard on theater and Lance Esplund on art.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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