Munch ‘Girls’ Painting Sells for $54.5 Million at Sotheby’s

  • The 1902 canvas leads Sotheby’s $157.7 million auction
  • Monday’s event marks start of week of bellwether auctions

Edvard Munch’s “Girls on the Bridge" fetched $54.5 million at Sotheby’s on Monday as the week of bellwether auctions in New York began.

Girls on the Bridge.

Source: Sotheby’s

The 1902 canvas was expected to sell at more than $50 million, the highest estimate of the week of auctions targeting more than $1 billion at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips. Sotheby’s evening sale of Impressionist and modern art tallied $157.7 million, within the estimated presale range but a 49 percent decline from the similar auction a year ago.

“A solid sale in a somewhat subdued sale room,” said Thomas C. Danziger, a partner at Danziger, Danziger & Muro, LLP law firm, who attended the sale. “Given the excitement -- and anxiety -- of the past week, it was reassuring to see that the art market stayed afloat, even if the mood wasn’t very buoyant."

Top lot: The Munch was the top lot of the evening and one of three guaranteed pieces. Sotheby’s found third-party backers to place irrevocable bids, ensuring the works were bought. Each of these works sold to the backers and drew no other bids either from the room or on the phones. Sotheby’s pricing revealed that the buyer of the Munch received a $2 million fee for providing the bid.

Surprise, Casualties

Night’s Surprise: The evening’s sole auction record for an artist belonged to a 1920s geometric abstract composition by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. His enamel on steel “EM 1 Telephonbild" fetched $6.1 million, smashing the previous record of $1.6 million. The buyer was Mathias Rastorfer, co-owner of Switzerland-based Galerie Gmurzynska on behalf of a client. The work was recently exhibited at the artist retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. “For a connoisseur, it was a very good buy,” Rastorfer said. “It was incredibly radical at the time and it still looks very contemporary.”

"EM 1 Telephonbild" by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

Source: Sotheby’s

Casualties: Of the evening’s 42 offered lots, eight failed to sell. One casualty was Tamara de Lempicka’s 1925 portrait of a man in fur-collared coat, “Portrait de Guido Sommi” that was estimated at $4 million to $6 million. A 1923 painting of a woman in a blue dress by Henri Matisse, estimated at $5 million to $7 million, also didn’t find a taker.

Takeaway: “It’s the first test after the U.S. presidential election and the market passed it,” said Hugo Nathan, an art adviser based in London. “It’s a solid start for the week.”

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