After two disappointing Christie’s auctions, Sotheby’s sold $290.2 million of Impressionist and modern art in New York last night, the category’s highest tally since the May 2012 sale in which Munch’s “Scream” sold for $120 million.
The top lot, Alberto Giacometti’s bronze bust of his brother Diego, fetched $50 million, reaching the high presale estimate. New York’s Acquavella Galleries Inc. bought the piece, Sotheby’s said. Two Picassos together brought in almost $71 million.
“So the market is alive, right?” said Tobias Meyer, the evening’s auctioneer, at the end of the sale as the room erupted in applause.
The results fell close to the high end of the auction’s presale estimate range of $212.9 million to $307.9 million. While 12 of the 64 offered lots failed to sell, records were set for Gustave Courbet, Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Giacomo Balla and Jean Arp. Five works sold for more than $10 million.
“I felt depressed after yesterday,” said Paris-based art adviser Loic Malle, referring to the $144.3 million tally at Christie’s Impressionist and modern art sale. “Today we are back to the history of art, not just the branding. The works deserve the prices.”
Picasso’s jewel-like 1935 portrait of Marie-Therese Walter fetched $39.9 million, above the high estimate of $30 million. It was bought by David Norman, Sotheby’s co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide, for a client. (Prices include buyer’s commission; estimates don’t.)
In recent years, Walter has been a popular subject with wealthy collectors. Last year, Steve Cohen, founder and owner of SAC Capital Advisors LP, paid $155 million for Picasso’s “Le Reve,” the most expensive painting of the artist’s young lover.
Cohen, whose firm is working out a $1.8 billion settlement for insider-trading charges, watched the action from the skybox. He regularly buys and sells at auction and has about $85 million in postwar art coming up for sale at Sotheby’s next week.
Seven bidders chased Picasso’s 1969 painting of a musketeer smoking a pipe. It sold to art dealer David Nahmad, for $30.9 million, the highest price for the Spaniard’s late phase.
Balla’s “Automobile in Corsa,” a dynamic 1913 Futurist painting, sold for $11.5 million, falling short of the low estimate but still a record for the artist.
Two paintings by Picabia broke his previous record of $4.1 million, with “Volucelle II,” a 1922 geometric composition, going for $8.8 million, above the high estimate. It went to a telephone client of Alejandra Rossetti, head of Sotheby’s private-client group in the U.S., who works with many Latin American collectors.
Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s senior vice president and head of Impressionist and modern art department in New York, said “powerful” bidding from Asia and Brazil boosted the results.
Other highlights included Courbet’s view of the Etretat cliffs in Normandy, which fetched $3.7 million, a record for the artist.
Seven hopefuls competed for Monet’s 1882 seascape, “Coucher de Soleil a Pourville Pleine Mer,” which ended up selling for $4.6 million, above the high estimate.
“There’s plenty of money,” said David Nash, co-owner of Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery, exiting the salesroom. “There’s lots of bidding for good pictures as long as they are fresh to the market and properly estimated. You see this again and again and again.”