Cezanne ‘Les Pommes’ Leads Sotheby’s $230 Million Tally

Paul Cezanne’s “Les Pommes” sold for $41.6 million at Sotheby’s in New York last night, the top price in a $230 million Impressionist and modern art sale.

That was the second-highest tally in the category since the recession began in 2008.

The Cezanne surged past its presale estimate of $25 million to $35 million as three bidders competed for the 1889-90 painting: two Sotheby’s staff members bid for clients by phone while a third bidder, private dealer Stephane Cosman Connery, was in the auction room. The still life was bought for an on-phone client by Bruno Vinciguerra, Sotheby’s chief operating officer.

Rapper LL Cool J watched the sale from a sky box. Hillel “Helly” Nahmad, an art dealer recently charged by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara with running a high-stakes gambling ring, sat in the front row. His father, David Nahmad, usually a fixture at the auctions, was missing.

“I can’t remember when David hasn’t been at a sale,” said David Nash, co-owner of Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York.

People from 35 countries registered to participate in the sale, according to Sotheby’s, including the largest number of Latin American and Asian participants in an Impressionist and modern art sale. Almost 85 percent of the 71 lots sold.

Renoir’s ‘Vase’

Russian buyers were active, bidding for paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Edouard Vuillard, Chaim Soutine and Wassily Kandinsky. A Russian won Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Vase de Pivoines” for $3.1 million.

The Cezanne was part of a collection assembled by inventor and entrepreneur Alex Lewyt and his wife, Elisabeth.

Another highlight of the Lewyt group, Amedeo Modigliani’s 1909 “L’Amazone,” fetched $25.9 million. The portrait of Baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villers, with equestrian attire and chiseled face, was expected to bring $20 million to $30 million.

A Fernand Leger painting owned by singer Madonna sold for $7.2 million. The 1921 canvas “Trois Femmes a la Table Rouge,” was estimated to sell for $5 million to $7 million. Madonna bought it for $3.4 million at Sotheby’s in 1990.

The work was sold to benefit the Ray of Light Foundation, which supports educational projects and training mainly for women.

Two bidders fought for Georges Braque’s Fauve landscape “Paysage a la Ciotat” (1907), pushing the price from the starting bid of $8.5 million to $15.8 million, an auction record for the artist. The winner was Emmanuel Di Donna, a partner at Blain Di Donna gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Chagall’s ‘Animal’

One surprise, dealers said, was Marc Chagall’s “Animal Dans les Fleurs” from 1952-59. Estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million, it surged to $4.8 million, a record for a work on paper by the artist at auction.

“That price makes the prices that the Japanese paid for Chagall in the 1980s look cheap,” said private dealer David Nisinson. “I never thought we’d see it again.”

Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” was another highlight. Cast during the artist’s lifetime, it had belonged at different times to publisher Ralph Pulitzer and the late CBS Chief Executive William Paley. Pursued by two bidders, it fetched $15.3 million, surpassing the high estimate.

Canadian collector Francois Odermatt seemed giddy after his sculpture by Camille Claudel, “La Valse,” sold for $1.9 million. He bought the work in 1989 for $100,000, he said.

“I am opening a museum of contemporary art in Montreal,” he said. “Now I have money to spend next week in contemporary auctions.”

The $230 million tally came close to the presale high estimate of $235.1 million but fell $100 million short of last May’s event, when Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” sold for $120 million, setting an auction record for a work of art.

“It was a difficult act to follow,” said Simon Shaw, head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art department in New York.

Christie’s Impressionist and modert art evening sale will take place today in New York.

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater, Richard Vines on dining.