Paintings by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani helped Christie’s sell $285.9 million of Impressionist and modern art in New York yesterday, 80 percent more than a year ago.
The result, which represented the highest tally in the category in four years, fell within the estimated presale range of $243.5 million to $358.9 million, the auction house said.
Of the 53 lots, 18 sold for more than $5 million and only six failed to find buyers. Clients from 36 countries, including China and Russia, registered to bid in the sale which kicked off two weeks of semi-annual auctions in New York. Asian bidders were active, winning at least two of the top 10 lots of the evening.
The sale was beefed up by consignments from three estates: copper heiress Huguette Clark, billionaire Edgar Bronfman and German collectors Viktor and Marianne Langen.
Although sales were strong, “the energy was a bit off,” New York art dealer Christophe van de Weghe said as he exited the midtown Manhattan room. “People are selective.”
Monet’s painting of a pond studded with water lilies fetched $24 million, or $27 million with buyer’s fees, compared to the presale estimate of $25 million to $35 million. The result was surprising, van de Weghe said, considering the work’s history and condition.
The vertical 1907 canvas, “Nympheas,” had belonged to reclusive heiress Clark, who died in 2011 at 104, leaving behind an estate valued at more than $300 million. Clark bought the pastel pond depiction in 1930, when she was 23 years old; it’s been off the market ever since.
The Monet was sold as part of a settlement in 2013 of the Clark estate. The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington stood to benefit from the sale. If the Monet’s hammer price exceeded $25 million, 50 percent of the upside would go to the museum, the Corcoran said. Since it didn’t exceed $25 million, the museum will receive nothing from the sale, spokeswoman Mimi Carter said today.
Clark’s father, billionaire and U.S. Senator William A. Clark, bequeathed more than 200 works of European art, including paintings, sculptures and antiquities, to the Corcoran in 1925 and the Clark family donated the funds to build the Clark Wing housing the collection at the museum.
The Monet drew initial bids from several Christie’s staffers but stalled at $24 million. The buyer was a private Asian client of Elaine Holt, Christie’s vice president and director of Impressionist and modern art in Hong Kong.
Picasso’s 1942 portrait of his lover Dora Maar sold by the Langen heirs also didn’t fly. It attracted a single bid of $20 million from art dealer Paul Gray, who was in the room. The final price of $22.6 million including fees fell short of the estimated range of $25 million to $35 million.
“The work was painted on a panel, not a canvas, and people don’t like that,” van de Weghe said about why he thought the purple-robed Maar didn’t stir stronger interest.
“The Langen Picasso was the bargain of the sale in my eyes,” said London-based art adviser Patrick Legant.
A few minutes later Gray outbid dealer Robert Mnuchin to win Alberto Giacometti’s bronze sculpture “Femme de Venise IV” for $12.7 million, within the estimated range. The work’s consignor bought it for $2.8 million in 2000 at Sotheby’s in London.
A 1909 Wassily Kandinsky painting “Strandszene (Beach Scene),” fetched $17.2 million with the premium. The colorful canvas from the Langen collection was estimated at $16 million to $22 million.
Picasso made up 13 lots, with works from his Cubist, Surrealist and neo-Classical periods, as well as portraits of his lovers Marie-Therese Walter, Dora Maar and Jacqueline Roque. All but one of the lots found buyers.
Modigliani’s portrait of a young man with red hair inspired one of the most heated bidding wars of the evening, surging from the opening bid $6 million to the final bid of $15.6 million. The price of $17.6 million surpassed the high estimate of $12 million. The consigner bought the work for $8.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2002.
The auction prices include the buyer’s premium, while the estimates don’t. Yesterday’s tally was the highest since May 2010, when the auction totaled $335.5 million, and the second highest since May 2008, which totaled $277 million.