There were many empty seats at a major evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art last night. Whether this is an indication of diminishing interest in the category or a testimony to the openness of the auction room provided by the internet is hard to know. Christie’s small sale gave little incentive to spectators but the event was well-executed. After several seasons of misfired sales, Christie’s seems to have embarked upon a new strategy for the category. Selling $165.6m worth of art and clearing a 90% sell-through on 39 lots validates that new tack.
Most observers noticed that Otto Naumann, bidding with his son, was the winning bidder on the evening’s top lot, the Manet that sold for $65m. It came out shortly after that the Getty Museum was the buyer. Here’s the Los Angeles Times’s detailed explanation of the purchase:
The J. Paul Getty Museum paid more than $65 million for an Édouard Manet painting at auction Wednesday evening in New York, shattering the record price for the French artist’s work and acquiring what the museum said would be one of the top five paintings in its collection.
Though the Getty did not disclose how much it spent to acquire Manet’s 1881 “Spring (Le Printemps),” the auction house Christie’s confirmed that the winning bid, including buyer’s premium, was $65,125,000. The previous record for a Manet was $33.2 million, paid for “Self Portrait With a Palette” in London four years ago. […] Bidding is anonymous, but Potts said the Getty had expected more competition from private individuals than other museums. “Spring” measures 29 inches by 20 inches, which puts the purchase price at $112,284.48 per square inch.
Carol Vogel spoke to some potential buyers who gave Sotheby’s credit for shoring up the mood surrounding the market:
“Remarkably, Sotheby’s launched a pretty happy boat,” said Stephane C. Connery, a private New York dealer. “Coming in second helped Christie’s. The Manet was a great painting and a very desirable one. Overall mood was really strong.” […] Jennifer Vorbach, a dealer who works with Gurr Johns, outbid five hopefuls for Picasso’s 1913 “Figure,” a collage that Picasso made in 1913 that included blue wallpaper in its composition, paying $4.3 million, well above its $2.5 million high estimate.
Bloomberg’s James Tarmy caught up with one of the night’s winning bidders:
“There are very exceptional works on sale,” said Jude Hess, an art adviser based in London who bought paintings by Georges Braque and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. “There’s a lot of collectors from Asia, and Russians are still buying, so it’s a healthy market.”
And gives some details on Christie’s perseverance over the night’s few significant losers:
In perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, Fernand Leger’s “Les Constructeurs Avec Arbre,” which depicts four construction workers perched atop a building, failed to find a bidder.
“I can wait all night,” said auctioneer Andreas Rumbler, chairman, Christie’s Switzerland, as the crowd sat in silence. After repeatedly asking for starting bids of $15.5 million, Rumbler moved on.
The Master, Judd Tully, also got a first-hand account of the interest in cubist works:
A pair of modestly scaled though high-quality Pablo Picasso Cubist offerings on paper from a private collection performed brilliantly. “Tete de femme” from 1909, in brush and brown ink on paper and featuring the strong likeness of the artist’s companion Fernande Olivier, made $1,085,000 (est. $1-1.5 million)[.]
[T]he Picasso […] hailed from [a] private collection, which was also the source of Gino Severini’s rare Futurist-styled “Etude pour Autoportrait au canotier” from 1912-13, in charcoal pastel and white and blue chalk on buff paper. The Severini sold to Braka for a whopping—and record—$4,757,000 (est. $1-1.5 million). Jennifer Vorbach was the tenacious underbidder.
“I just thought it was one of the fullest and most developed works on paper by Severini,” Braka said as he rushed out of the salesroom, “and it came with absolutely the date people want. He’s always been a favorite artist of mine.”
He added, “I wish it was a picture I could keep.”
Manet Steals the Show at Christie’s (BLOUIN ARTINFO)