Pissarro to Van Gogh Boost Sotheby’s $267 Million Auction

A restituted Pissarro painting, a Van Gogh canvas and prominent dealer’s collection fueled Sotheby’s record auction in London yesterday as collectors from 44 countries competed for Impressionist, modern and Surrealist art.

The evening sale tallied 163.5 million pounds ($266.8 million), up 57 percent from a year ago and surpassing its high presale estimate of 128.4 million pounds. Of 89 offered lots, 10 failed to find buyers, Sotheby’s said.

Christie’s International tallied 177 million pounds during its evening sale on Feb. 4, kicking off auctions that represent the first big test of the art market this year. Modern and Impressionist art sales have been trailing those of postwar and contemporary art with fresh material of high quality harder to obtain. Demand from new wealthy buyers in China, Russia and other emerging markets is boosting prices for classic works, said Helena Newman, Sotheby’s worldwide head of the Impressionist and modern art department.

“It’s a truly global market and that’s why the prices are so strong,” Newman said in a telephone interview. “We had a combination of great material and conservative estimates.”

The top lot at Sotheby’s sale, Camille Pissarro’s 1897 view of Paris’s Montmartre on a spring morning, fetched 19.7 million pounds, almost doubling its presale high estimate of 10 million pounds. The prices include buyer’s premium; the estimates do not. About 60 percent of sold lots surpassed their high estimates, Sotheby’s said.

Nazi Victim

The Impressionist canvas was originally owned by Max Silberberg, a Jewish industrialist who was forced by the Nazis to sell his prized collection of 19th and 20th century art. Silberberg perished in 1942 during the Holocaust. The Pissarro was restituted to his heir in 2000 by the Israel Museum.

Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 painting, “L’Homme Est en Mer (The Man Is at Sea)” fetched 16.9 million pounds, more than doubling the high estimate of 8 million pounds. Painted at the Saint-Remy asylum, it depicts a young woman cradling a child.

The work was previously sold for $7.15 million at Sotheby’s in New York in 1989. The anonymous consignor bought the piece in 1993 for an undisclosed price, Sotheby’s said.

A group of 37 works from the private collection of Geneva art dealer Jan Krugier, a Holocaust survivor who died in 2008, took 53.3 million pounds, almost twice its presale high estimate of 27.1 million pounds. Each lot offered from Krugier sold yesterday and an additional 82 pieces from the collection will go on the auction block today.

Picasso, Giacometti

The group’s highlights included Picasso’s “Composition au Minotaure (Composition Minotaur),” which sold for 10.4 million pounds, above the high estimate of 2.5 million pounds. Alberto Giacometti’s “Homme Traversant une Place par un Matin de Soleil (Man Crossing a Place for a Morning Sun)” generated 8.5 million pounds, above the high estimate of 5 million pounds.

In November, 155 lots from the Krugier collection, including 29 Picassos, were offered at Christie’s in New York. The auction brought $113.7 million, more than 30 percent below the low estimate.

At the time, dealers said many pieces were part of Krugier’s gallery inventory and not fresh to the market.

“What we sold tonight was a group of drawings that came from the private collection of Jan and his wife,” Newman said. “The works hung in their home.”

One of the biggest surprises at yesterday’s sale was the stark 1956 painting “Le Passage (the Passage)” by American Surrealist Kay Sage (1898-1963), which fetched 4.3 million pounds, or 48 times its high presale estimate. Since 1958 the work had been in the collection of Stanley Seeger, a collector who died in 2011.