The New York Times points out that the big victims in tonight’s sale at Sotheby’s were the Modern Masters, Picasso and Giacometti. The two most expensive works by a long shot only got one bid between them. But what the paper fails to point out is that both artists have come to the end of a long run of extraordinary prices. Throughout the latter part of 2008, one could see the Francis Bacon market peter out as lesser and lesser works came to auction with higher and higher prices. Now, we’re seeing the same effect with Picasso and Giacometti which the Times interprets as a collapse of all Modern Masters. Though their case is made stronger by the weak results for weak examples of Joan Miró and a tepid Léger, two other Modern Masters who have seen strong prices build as a succession of great works came to market.
Reluctantly, Carol Vogel finds some bright spots in tonight’s sale of Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby’s.
But the evening was not without a few high points. Mondrian’s “Composition in Black and White, With Double Lines,” a 1934 canvas, was estimated at $3 million to $5 million. It brought the highest price of the evening, selling to an unidentified bidder sitting in the back of the salesroom for $9.2 million.
Before the auction, dealers expressed concerns about the condition of the picture, which was at a restorer until right before the sale. But that did not seem to matter. Six bidders vied for the work, and some attributed its popularity to the Saint Laurent effect: the memory of three other Mondrians that were among the highlights of the sale of art and objects belonging to Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, at Christie’s in Paris in February. One Mondrian from that collection — a 1922 canvas — brought $24.5 million and was said to have been purchased by the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was the enthusiasm buyers had for Impressionist paintings. Three were from the estate of Marian Kingsland Frelinghuysen, an heir of Henry O. and Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer, celebrated collectors who left prime examples of masters like Degas, Cassatt, Courbet, Manet and Monet — to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929. Six bidders fought for Monet’s “Sailboat on the River Seine, Argenteuil,” from 1872. An early landscape as well as one of the artist’s first attempts at depicting outdoor light, it ended up going to the Nahmad Gallery, with spaces in New York and London, for $3.4 million, more than twice its high $1.8 million estimate.
Also from the same estate were two paintings by Pissarro. “The Goat Keeper,” a peasant woman feeding a goat, was estimated at $1.4 million to $1.8 million. Four people went for the painting, which was sold to a telephone bidder for $2.5 million. “Flood in Pontoise” (1882), a landscape depicting the rising water from the river Oise, was bought by another telephone bidder for $2.9 million.
Modern Masters Suffer at Auction (New York Times)