“It’s a new world,” Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer said as he hammered down Lyonel Feininger’s “Jesuiten III” (1918) to a world record $23.28 million. The sale was the strongest at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale last night. The auction kicked off the spring season with surprises both high and low.
The sale totaled $278 million with 90.2% of the 61 lots sold, making it the second highest Impressionist and Modern evening sale after the high-water mark of May 1990. The sale started off with many works selling at or above the high estimates. Cézanne’s “Nature morte au melon vert” (1902–06) set a world record for a Cézanne work on paper and the highest price of the evening at $25.52 million (all prices reflect the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium.) The prolonged bidding for the Cézanne began at $12 million and proceeded in $250,000 increments until the end.
Across the board, prices for works by Giacometti, Monet, Balthus, and Léger surpassed high estimates. Picasso, too, retained the affection of buyers across a range of the prolific artist’s styles and periods. A Theo Van Doesburg “Contra-composition VII” (1924) sold for $3.7 million — more that twice its low estimate.
But the auction seemed to lose steam after the sale of the Feininger, an artist barely known to American collectors. Fauvist works by Derain and Kandinsky sold below the low estimates, as did Henri Matisse’s “Odalisque grise et jaune” (1925), which was hammered at $13.1 million, well below the $15 million low estimate.
The big surprise of the evening’s sale was the failure of both Modigliani works. After a rapid run-up in prices in the past few years, the Modigliani market may have found its limit.
“The audience didn’t accept the estimate,” Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern department head David Norman, said.
Yet he remained optimistic about the artist’s work: “I’m sure it will find its day.”