Monet Tops $165 Million Sale, Modern Art Confidence Rises

Confidence in the market for Impressionist and modern art was boosted last night in London as a $165 million auction beat its high estimate, helped by Claude Monet’s painting of a Venetian palazzo.

“Le Palais Contarini,” dating from 1908, sold for 19.7 million pounds ($30.5 million) at Sotheby’s, becoming another profitable investment for its seller, the Nahmad family of dealers.

The evening’s 105.9 million pounds total with fees beat the 64.1 million pounds raised the previous night at Christie’s International, which had prompted dealers to question whether the houses should continue to hold four Impressionist and modern evening sales in New York and London each year.

“Sotheby’s had better material that was fresh to the market,” Fotini Xydas, adviser in Impressionist and modern art at Citibank N.A., said in an interview. “They had works from collections with reasonable estimates that made bidding competitive. Prices were solid and measured.”

The Monet attracted four telephone bidders, as well as an “irrevocable” bid from a third party guarantor. Purchased at auction in 1996 for $4.2 million, it had been estimated at 15 million pounds to 20 million pounds.

The painting had been entered by the Nahmads, who also consigned the two top lots at Christie’s, persons with knowledge of the matter said. The Nahmad Gallery did not respond to a Bloomberg News e-mail seeking details of ownership.

Picasso Lovers

The auction began with 28 pieces formerly owned by the late Swiss entrepreneur Branco Weiss, which raised 15.9 million pounds for medical research. These were followed by six Picasso drawings consigned from the estate of the U.S. collector, the late Stanley J. Seeger, which fetched 6.3 million pounds.

Pick of these lots was a 1971 Picasso drawing, “Etreinte.” This chalk depiction of lovers triggered a bidding battle between two telephone bidders. The work was sold to a client represented by Sotheby’s Italian-based specialist Claudia Dwek for 3.1 million pounds, underbid by an Asian collector, against a low estimate of 1.5 million pounds.

“It was a red, sexy drawing,” Morgan Long, head of investment at the London-based Fine Art Fund, said in an interview. “It was a classic Picasso to hang on your wall.”

Piet Mondrian’s 1927 “Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue,” estimated at 4.5 million pounds to 6.5 million pounds, had not been seen at auction market since 1990. It drew competition from four phone bidders before falling to a client represented by Sotheby’s New York-based David Norman for 9.3 million pounds.

Monet Bridge

A bidder in the room from India and a Chinese-speaking client on the telephone competed for the 1872 Monet painting “Le Pont de Bois” before it was knocked down to Sotheby’s New York-based staff member Brad Bentoff, representing a client. Sold from the collection of the late Gustav Rau to benefit Unicef, it had been estimated at 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds.

Sotheby’s said the evening attracted a record number of Asian bidders and buyers to one of its London Impressionist and modern art sales.

The one high-profile failure was a 1967 Picasso self-portrait “Le Peintre,” estimated at 5 million pounds to 7 million pounds. It had been acquired by its seller for 3.3 million pounds at Sotheby’s London in 2007.

Sotheby’s sale found buyers for 82 percent of its 71 lots. The event carried a high estimate of 104.9 million pounds, based on hammer prices. Last June, it was Sotheby’s who struggled to gather material and its auction contained just 48 lots, raising 74.9 million pounds.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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