Klimt, Malevich, Manet Lead Sotheby’s $280 Million Sale

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Suprematism, 18th Construction

Kazimir Malevich's 1915 painting, “Suprematism, 18th Construction,” fetched 21.4 million pounds. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Paintings by Gustav Klimt, Kazimir Malevich and Edouard Manet propelled Sotheby’s auction of Impressionist and modern art to 178.6 million pounds ($280.4 million) in London.

Wednesday’s tally came within the company’s presale estimated range and represented a 46 percent increase from the equivalent auction a year ago. Russian, Asian and American buyers competed for 50 lots, of which eight failed to sell. Seven works sold for more than 10 million pounds.

“It proved that if you have strong material it doesn’t matter where you sell it,” said art dealer Daniella Luxembourg, who has galleries in New York and London. “The market is totally global.”

Collectors were particularly drawn to works that were fresh to the market, dealers said. Christie’s equivalent auction on June 23 tallied less than half of Sotheby’s total, with the same number of lots offered and sold.

The top lot was Klimt’s 1902 portrait “Bildnis Gertrud Loew (Gertha Felsovanyi),” depicting a young auburn-haired woman wrapped in a diaphanous white dress. It fetched 24.8 million pounds after a 10-minute bidding war, surpassing the high estimate of 18 million pounds. The winner was an anonymous woman with paddle 924, bidding in the room.

Prices include buyer’s commission charged by the auction house; estimates don’t.

Loew, later known as Felsovanyi, was a member of Viennese society. The work came to auction after a recent restitution settlement between the Felsovanyi family and the Klimt Foundation in Vienna.

‘Exquisite Painting’

“It’s an exquisite painting,” said Helena Newman, Sotheby’s worldwide co-head of Impressionist and modern art. “It appealed to today’s global buyers who are looking for, above all, the quality of material.”

Another recently restituted artwork, Max Liebermann’s 1901 “Zwei Reiter am Strand Nach Links (Two Riders on a Beach),” sold for 1.9 million pounds, more than three times its high estimate of 550,000 pounds. The painting was the first work to come to auction from the Cornelius Gurlitt art trove.

The 1915 Kazimir Malevich painting “Suprematism, 18th Construction” brought 21.4 million pounds, just above the low estimate of 20 million pounds. Painted the same year as the artist’s iconic “Black Square,” the work was being sold by the artist’s heirs, who won it back as a result of a restitution settlement in 2008 with the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Minimum Guarantees

“There are very few paintings from that date that are authentic,” said Mathias Rastorfer, co-owner of the Gmurzynska galleries in Switzerland, which specialize in modern and postwar masterpieces. “They never come up for sale. It’s not like a Warhol or a Richter.”

The Malevich was among eight works whose consignors had been guaranteed an undisclosed minimum price by Sotheby’s regardless of whether they sold or flopped. Each was backed by a third party, which agreed to place irrevocable bids during the auction.

Manet’s 1881 “Le bar aux Folies-Bergères.”
Manet’s 1881 “Le bar aux Folies-Bergères.”
Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Manet’s 1881 “Le Bar aux Folies-Bergere,” showing a golden-haired woman at a bar, was estimated at 15 million to 20 million pounds and drew a single 15 million pound bid, selling to the guarantor. After the buyer’s commission was added, the price reached 16.9 million pounds.

“Not everyone likes to bid against the guarantee,” said New York-based art dealer Emmanuel Di Donna. “It means that the works are kind of presold.”

Degas Dancer

Edgar Degas’ famous sculpture “Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans,” depicting a 14-year-old dancer, went for 15.8 million pounds after bidding that began at 7.5 million pounds. The final price surpassed the high estimate and established an auction high for a sculpture by the French artist.

The woman carrying paddle 924 won several top lots, including the Klimt painting and the Degas sculpture. The works she acquired totaled more than 54 million pounds.

She helped push the price for Chaim Soutine’s 1927 red-vested “Le Valet de Chambre” to 10.8 million pounds, above the high estimate of 8.5 million pounds. Another of her purchases was Marc Chagall’s “Les Amoureux de Vence” for 2.8 million pounds, above the 1.5 million top estimate.

“We were bidding on many works for our clients,” said the gallerist Luxembourg, listing pieces by Degas, Klimt and Liebermann. “We didn’t get one thing.”

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