Asians Grab Van Gogh, Monet at Sotheby’s $368 Million Sale

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L'Allée des Alyscamps by Van Gogh
L'Allée des Alyscamps by Vincent van Gogh, painted on Nov. 1, 1888, sold for $66.3 million. Source: Sotheby’s via Bloomberg

Asian collectors snapped up paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet at a Sotheby’s auction in New York that totaled $368.3 million.

The tally on Tuesday was the second highest for an Impressionist and modern art auction at Sotheby’s and a 67 percent increase from a similar sale last May. The auctioneer also surpassed its high presale target of $351 million despite failing to sell 14 of the 64 lots.

The auction was the first test of the art market during two weeks of bellwether sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art in New York that are expected to total as much as $2.3 billion. For the moment, the market is showing no sign of slowing down, dealers said.

“The fundamentals haven’t changed,” said Guy Jennings, managing director of the Fine Art Fund Group in London that sold works at the evening auction. “Interest rates are incredibly low. The stock market is incredibly high. Everyone is making money.”

Champagne flowed as guests entered the brightly lit salesroom at the company’s Upper East Side headquarters. Tad Smith, Sotheby’s new chief executive officer, observed the auction standing alone, for the most part, at the front of the room.

The top lot, Van Gogh’s 1888 painting “L’Allee Des Alyscamps,” went to a private Asian client for $66.3 million. Prices include commissions; estimates don’t. The consigner bought the work for $11.8 million at Christie’s in 2003.

Lovers’ Lane

The buyer was a bespectacled man in the room, who spoke on the phone while bidding. He was one of five people, including at least two other Asian bidders, who chased after the vibrant autumnal view of a tree-lined lovers’ lane in Arles, painted shortly after Van Gogh moved to the south of France.

Van Gogh’s auction record of $82.5 million has been unchallenged since “Portrait du Dr. Gachet” sold 25 years ago at Christie’s in New York.

In November, Sotheby’s sold an 1890 still life by Van Gogh for $61.8 million. The buyer of “Still Life, Vase With Daisies and Poppies” was Wang Zhongjun, chairman of Beijing-based Huayi Brothers Media Corp., which produces and distributes movies in China, according to Sotheby’s.

Tuesday’s auction included six paintings by Monet, of which all but one found buyers and four landed among the top 10 lots of the evening.

A painting of one of Monet’s most recognizable images, the water lily pond, sold for $54 million to a U.S. private collector bidding through George Wachter, Sotheby’s co-chairman of Old Masters Worldwide, who outbid Sotheby’s Asia Chairman Patti Wong.

Lily Pond

Painted in 1905, “Nympheas” depicts a lily pond in Monet’s garden at Giverny, France. The work was estimated at $30 million to $45 million by the auction house.

An Asian buyer purchased Monet’s 1913 “Bassin aux Nympheas, les Rosiers,” another lily pond depiction, for $20.4 million, within the estimated presale range.

Wong was more successful winning for an Asian client Picasso’s 1948 portrait of his lover Francoise Gilot from the collection of Hollywood’s film producing dynasty, the Goldwyns.

The patchwork painting, depicting Gilot in a Polish coat, fetched $29.9 million, surpassing its presale high estimate of $18 million.

Asian buyers accounted for more than one-third of the overall sales total, Sotheby’s said.

Magic Names

“Monet along with Picasso and Van Gogh are those magic names that cut across the globe,” said Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s senior vice president and co-head of Impressionist and modern art worldwide.

While more than one-third of the offered artworks had remained in the same collections for 50 years, according to Sotheby’s, more than 30 lots have previously appeared at auction, some as recently as in 2013.

“The resale cycle has become much shorter,” said Ezra Chowaiki, a New York-based art dealer. “People are getting more used to it. All that matters now is the quality.”

Quality and freshness were part of the appeal of 11 lots from the collection of Jerome H. Stone, a Chicago businessman and founder of the Alzheimer’s Association, who died earlier this year, dealers said.

The Stone lots were guaranteed by Sotheby’s, meaning that the auction house agreed to pay the seller an undisclosed minimum price regardless of the sale’s outcome. All sold, tallying $57.8 million.

No Takers

The group was led by Alberto Giacometti’s small bust of his brother, “Buste de Diego,” which fetched $12.8 million, surpassing the high estimate of $8 million. Stone had acquired the work in 1956.

Casualties in the overall sale included paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse and Rene Magritte. Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s 1888 painting of a female nude, which was estimated at $6 million to $8 million, found no takers.

Sotheby’s results were encouraging, dealers said, given last-minute scheduling changes due to the Venice Biennale, a prestigious exhibition in Italy that opened to invited guests this week rather than in June.

Christie’s said it moved its evening sale of Impressionist and modern art from May 4 to May 14 to accommodate clients traveling to Venice. Christie’s will hold its auctions next week, when it expects to tally a record $1.3 billion.

“They are competing against Christie’s next week,” Chowaiki said of Sotheby’s. “They are competing against Venice right now. And they are still doing really well.”

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