Manet’s ‘Le Printemps’ Leads Christie’s $166 Million Sale

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Edouard Manet's
Edouard Manet's "Le Printemps" sold for $65.1 million at Christie's in New York. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. via Bloomberg

A $65.1 million Edouard Manet painting of a woman with a parasol set an auction record for the artist and led Christie’s $166 million sale in New York.

Last night’s tally exceeded the $144.3 million total from last year’s Impressionist and modern art sale and surpassed the New York-based auction house’s high estimate of $158 million. Of the 39 lots offered, 35 found buyers.

Christie’s result comes a day after Sotheby’s record $422 million sale and the fall auction season gets into full swing in Manhattan. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips next week will conduct auctions of postwar and contemporary art.

Dealers and advisers said the art market may remain strong because the expansion of private wealth has boosted the number of collectors. A robust stock market also may help fuel prices, they said. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed yesterday at an all-time high of 2,023.57 in New York, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached a record 17,484.53.

“There are very exceptional works on sale,” said Jude Hess, an art adviser based in London who bought paintings by Georges Braque and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. “There’s a lot of collectors from Asia, and Russians are still buying, so it’s a healthy market.”

Manet Record

A flurry of bidders, both in the salesroom and on the phone, thrust Manet’s 1881 “Le Printemps” past its $25 million to $35 million estimate, selling for $65.1 million and setting an auction record for the artist. Manet’s previous record was in 2010, when hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen sold “Self Portrait With a Palette” for $33.2 million at Christie’s in London.

Last night’s Manet was bought by New York dealer Otto Naumann on behalf of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Los Angeles-based museum said today. The New York Times first reported the Getty was the buyer.

“Spring was the last of Manet’s salon paintings still in private hands, and universally recognized as one of his great masterpieces,” Timothy Potts, director of the Getty, said in a statement. “I have no doubt that it will soon become one of the most iconic images in the Getty’s painting collection.”

Watercolor, Pastel

The Getty said it owns two Manet paintings, “Portrait of Madame Brunet” and “The Rue Mosnier with Flags,” as well as the watercolor “Bullfight” and the pastel “Portrait of Julien de la Rochenoire.”

The runner-up for the Manet was Acquavella Galleries, which competed by phone. “Le Printemps” had been in the same private collection for more than a century and had been on loan to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

In perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, Fernand Leger’s “Les Constructeurs Avec Arbre,” which depicts four construction workers perched atop a building, failed to find a bidder.

“I can wait all night,” said auctioneer Andreas Rumbler, chairman, Christie’s Switzerland, as the crowd sat in silence. After repeatedly asking for starting bids of $15.5 million, Rumbler moved on.

The Leger had a presale estimate of $16 million to $22 million. The work was exhibited in 1998 at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas by its then-owner, billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn, according to Christie’s.

Giacometti Sculpture

The painting was guaranteed by the auction house for an unspecified sum. A guarantee is a pre-sale agreement to purchase the art at a fixed price. If bidding goes beyond that price, the guarantor, either the auction house or a third party, will receive a certain percentage of the sale.

Alberto Giacometti’s 5.4-foot-tall elongated bronze bust set atop a pedestal, valued at $4.5 million to $6.5 million, sold for $9.9 million, making it the second biggest lot of the evening. The sale came a day after a Giacometti sculpture “Chariot” sold for $101 million at Sotheby’s.

A charcoal, pastel and white and blue chalk on paper by Gino Severini sold for $4.7 million, setting an auction record for the artist. It sold to a private collector in the U.K.

Four of the top lots last night had guarantees: the Leger, two works by Rene Magritte and an 8-foot-tall painting by Joan Miro.

Topping Estimates

Many of the sculptures met or exceeded their high estimates. A bronze, 2-foot-long sculpture by Auguste Rodin, “Danaide, grand modele,” from the estate of Edgar M. Bronfman, sold for $1.7 million, more than double its high estimate. A white marble sculpture by the Ukranian artist Alexander Archipenko also more than doubled its high estimate of $700,000, selling for $1.7 million, and a bronze statue of a galloping horse by Edgar Degas exceeded its high estimate by $300,000, selling for $1.8 million.

Although the sale lacked some of the eye-catching, nine-figure numbers from Sotheby’s the night before, 31 lots sold above $1 million, and six topped $5 million.

“Remember, $10 million is still a lot of money,” said Frances Beatty, president of the Richard L. Feigen & Co. gallery in New York. “We have to maintain some modicum of perspective amid all of these high prices.”

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