One of the benefits of the increasingly global art market is the mobility of art when it is being marketed. As befits demand, the auction houses have established strong presences in Asia and the Gulf states to complement their strength in Europe and North America. But what is surprising is that the auction houses are also shipping art works between London and New York before sales in either city.
Between today and January 16, Sotheby’s is presenting 30 paintings from its London sale of Impressionist and Modern art here in New York. The sale continues the momentum of the last few years in the art market, highlighting works by Cézanne, Picasso, and Monet. It also has a clutch of Expressionist works representing a submarket of surprising strength — and beauty. The star of the sale is Pablo Picasso’s 1938 “Tête de Femme,” estimated at between $13 million and $17 million. The portrait of Dora Maar is significant for several reasons. Pieces from this era of Picasso’s production have achieved some of the highest prices for his work — which are also some of the highest prices for art sold at auction. Add in the provenance — it comes from the collection of Heinz Berggruen, the noted collector who died last year — and that’s a recipe for a heated auction.
For the casual gallery-goer, the painting is worth seeing because it is echt Picasso: large head, oversize nose with bull-like nostrils, and a split visage creating a cross-eyed gaze. The picture is so classically Picasso that it is almost a parody of the painter’s best-known work.
Provenance is also a distinguishing feature of Paul Cézanne’s “Poires et Couteau,” a still life from 1877–78 that was owned by Joan Whitney Payson. Sotheby’s has achieved real success in the auction market with her collection, as well as that of her brother, John Hay Whitney. Five paintings from the siblings’ collections — they did not buy art together — appear on the list of the top 25 auction prices. Sotheby’s just sold Payson’s “Te Poipoi,” a large, dark Gaugin, for nearly $40 million in November. This season’s Cézanne is estimated at between $4 million and $6 million.
A snowy landscape from 1867 by Claude Monet and a Pierre-Auguste Renoir portrait that has special appeal for London museum patrons are among the major French works on display. The other stars of the show are the Mitteleuropan painters who created some of the foundation works of Expressionism. This sub-category, which has been gaining in importance over the last three years, is emerging as a growth center for the Modern art market.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s “Group of Bathers on the Beach” (1913) is estimated at between $5.4 million and $7 million. Though more subdued in color than his most prized works, the painting comes from a key art-historical moment — the dissolution of the avant-garde movement, Die Brücke.
Franz Marc’s “Grazing Horses III” is the last work of this iconic subject (grazing horses) left in private hands. The estimate — between $12 million and $16 million — is set high. But a few factors combine to make that understandable. Marc’s limited output — he was killed at the Battle of Verdun during World War I — and the market momentum of the $20 million auction record for his painting “The Waterfall,” set in November, are major factors.
This impressive group of Expressionist paintings is matched by the appearance of Alexej von Jawlensky’s “Schokko mit Tellerhut” on the market again. Jawlensky’s prices have risen dramatically since this painting sold in 2003 for more than $8 million. And the portrait is considered one of Jawlensky’s best, which accounts for the estimate set at between $13 million and $17 million.