Sotheby's Sells $726.7 Million of Art in Two Days Led by Picasso

  • Billionaire Ronald Lauder bought painting for Neue Galerie
  • Bill Koch's `Blue Period' Picasso fetches $67.5 million

Sotheby’s sold $726.7 million of art in two days in New York, with works by Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh leading the way.

At the Impressionist and modern art evening sale on Thursday, the tally was $306.7 million, a 27.3 percent decline from the similar event a year ago. Two preceding auctions from the collection of Sotheby’s former chairman A. Alfred Taubman helped the company reach the higher total.

The sales kicked off 10 days of semiannual bellwether auctions in New York. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips target more than $2.1 billion in sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art. It’s the first big test of the art trade since the stock market rout in August and September.

The result on Thursday was within the estimate of $275.6 million to $369.2 million. Of the 47 offered lots, 11 failed to sell while several top lots drew meager bidding. Sotheby’s sold $575.8 million of Impressionist and modern art in two days.

Koch’s Paintings

The most expensive work was billionaire William Koch’s Picasso painting, “La Gommeuse,” created at the start of the artist’s “Blue Period” in 1901. It fetched $67.5 million, selling in the room to Doris Ammann, a Zurich-based art dealer. The work had been estimated at more than $60 million.

Picasso’s "La Gommeuse"

Source: Estate of Pablo Picasso/ARS

Picasso was 19 when he painted the nude cabaret dancer with a pale face, red lips and black curls. There’s a second painting on the back of the canvas, an upside-down caricature of the artist’s friend and fellow Spaniard Pere Manach. Koch bought the work in 1984 for 1.4 million pounds, equivalent to about $1.7 million at the time, at Sotheby’s in London.

The second Koch painting, Claude Monet’s 1908 “Nympheas” fetched $33.9 million, within the estimated range of $30 million to $50 million. The 1908 canvas depicts the artist’s famous pond studded with water lilies in Giverny, France. Koch bought it for $8.4 million at Sotheby’s in New York in 2000.

The two pieces accounted for $101.3 million, a third of the evening’s tally and about 10 times what Koch paid for them.

Wild Flowers

The second-biggest price was for Van Gogh’s landscape of a field of wild flowers under billowing clouds that fetched $54 million, at the low end of its presale estimate of $50 million to $70 million. Only one bidder wanted the work, which went to the telephone client of Simon Shaw, co-head of Sotheby’s worldwide Impressionist and modern art department.

“That was a surprise,” said Stephane C. Connery, whose Connery & Associates Fine Art specializes in high-end private sales of Impressionist and 20th century art. “I personally liked that Van Gogh. Someone got very lucky. Maybe what happened yesterday cooled people’s appetite.”

Van Gogh's "Paysage"

Source: Sothesby's

On Wednesday, Sotheby’s pulled out all the stops for “Masterworks,” the evening auction of 77 top pieces in the Taubman collection. Despite the packed room, the sale lacked energy and many works fell short of the low estimates. Dealers thought the material didn’t merit the robust valuations.

The day sale from the collection ignited more fireworks, selling $42.7 million, near the high estimate, and bringing the running Taubman tally to $420 million. Billionaire Ronald Lauder paid $3.7 million for a portrait by Richard Gerstl, four times the high estimate, for Neue Galerie, his private museum in New York.

Asian Buyers

Asian buyers were present on both days. At the Taubman sale on Wednesday, they picked up the top lot, Amedeo Modigliani’s 1919 painting of a somber young woman in a black dress that fetched $42.8 million, exceeding its presale target of more than $25 million, as well as paintings by Francis Bacon and Roy Lichtenstein and a bronze by Alberto Giacometti.

On Thursday, Patti Wong, Sotheby’s chairman of Asia, bought Picasso’s “Blue Period” pastel for $12 million on behalf of a client, as well as Van Gogh’s small portrait of a baby for $7.6 million, surpassing the high estimate of $5 million.

Malevich's "Mystic Suprematism"

Source: Sotheby's

Both works, as well as Van Gogh’s Arles landscape, were part of the 10-lot group from the Belgian collection of Louis and Evelyn Franck. Nine artworks sold, tallying $98.5 million and surpassing the presale target of $80 million.

Kazimir Malevich’s “Mystic Suprematism (Black Cross on Red Oval)” brought $37.8 million, just above the low estimate of $35 million. The painting was sold by the Russian artist’s heirs, who won its return after a restitution settlement in 2008 with the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

“It could have gone higher,” said Anatol Bekkerman, a New York-based Russian-art dealer. “It’s an incredibly rare painting. Perhaps the current situation in Russia is impacting the market. Syria. Ukraine. The decline of the ruble.”

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