This report on the Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Day sale for June 2020 by Angelica Villa is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
On Monday, Sotheby’s staged the first leg of its marquee 20th century art auctions with its Impressionist and Modern art day sale in New York ahead of the auction houses’ first fully remote evening sale. The day auction brought in $16.7 million from the sale of 166 lots. A solid 83 percent sell-through rate and active virtual bidding allowed the results to come in almost exactly in line with the May 2019 day sale which reached $16.6 million from 229 lots.
Leading the auction was Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux’s 1974 oil on panel L’imperatrice depicting an off-centered white cloaked female figure against a moon-lit background in a surrealist landscape. It sold for $1.16 million or slightly below its pre-sale estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million (when the buyer’s premium is accounted for) to an online bidder after seven bids. Two advance bids came in before the lot went up for sale. The work has only changed hands twice before. It was purchased by the seller in a Christie’s London sale in December 1997 for £221,500, where it appeared from a private Belgium collection. It was widely exhibited throughout Japan in the 1980s.
Art deco darling, Tamara de Lempicka’s graphic still life, Plante Grasse et Fiole from 1941 sold for $596,000 landing in the middle of its estimate range between $400,000 and 600,000. The work was acquired by the seller at a Paris auction in 2008 and last exhibited at Lempicka’s survey at London’s Royal Academy of Art in 2004. One of the highest priced lots in the sale which failed to find a buyer was Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo’s black and blue Figuras from the early 1970s, which was slated with an estimate of $1.5 million to $2 million. Surrealist and pre-war era artists with graphic sensibilities have led the Impressionist and Modern sales in past seasons. Lempicka’s record price set for Portrait de Marjorie Ferry (1932) when it sold for £16.2 million ($21.1 millio)n at Christie’s in February this year placed the Polish artist in a new price echelon.
Featured in this auction were a selection of high level works by Latin American Modernists which were challenged by with their estimates. Jose Clemente Orozco’s La Cantina, a picture highlighting the Vanguard Spirit section of the Latin American artists on offer in the sale sold for $596,000, below its low estimate of $600,000. Rufino Tamayo’s 1982 Personajes en Rosa sold for $716,000 against an estimate of $700,000-900,000. The work last came to auction at Sotheby’s in May 2012 when it sold for $530,500 leaving the seller with a small gain of less than $50,000 after the buyer’s premium is subtracted. Tamayo’s second picture sold to a buyer on the phone for $560,000 between its estimate of $400,000 and $600,000. A mainstay in the Impressionist and Modern auction, Marc Chagall’s 1960 work on paper Reve d’amour performed well against its pre-sale expectation of $350,000-450,000, realizing a selling price of $596,000. The work came to the market after having been in a private collection since 1965 when it was first acquired from a French dealer.
Elsewhere in the sale, some Impressionist staples at the high value end of the sale saw tepid results, including Renoir’s portrait of a woman consigned to benefit the San Diego Museum of Art’s acquisition fund which failed to reach its low estimate of $600,000, selling for $524,000; though Maurice de Vlaminck’s Village sur Seine from the same seller went for $225,000, well surpassing its high estimate of $180,000.
Illustrative and boldly colored works by modernists closer to the postwar period drew more pre-sale interest than their earlier French counterparts. Bernard Buffet’s large-scale paintings inspired by New York’s urban landscape from 1958 saw high bidding, the first of which sold for $275,000 with the ninth bid going to a telephone bidder after seeing advance interest. The second New York landscape went for $287,500 after drawing 20 bids with advance interest. It bested its high estimate of $100,000. Henry Moret’s 1896 river scene, La Riviere de Belon sold to a phone bidder at $130,000 for more than double its low estimate of $60,000.
French-polish painter Moise Kisling’s nude portrait from 1930 quickly doubled its high estimate through a slew of online bids, eventually going for 87,500 against an estimate of $30,000-40,000. Another Kisling portrait from the same period doubled its low estimate of $50,000, going for $100,000 to a phone bidder. Francis Picabia’s dramatic blue portrait of a cabaret dancer titled Tabarin saw fast initial bids, selling for $162,000 surpassing its high estimate of $130,000.
Georg Grosz’s drawing from the William Louis-Dreyfus foundation saw pre-sale interest landing above its high estimate at $22,000 to an advance bidder. Surrealist Dorothea Tanning’s small-scale abstract oil on canvas from 1959-61 drew competitive bidding, more than tripling its low estimate at $8,000 to $12,000 eventually going for 50,000 to an online bidder after protracting bidding between online and phone bidders. Baptême last sold at Christie’s in January 2012 in an interiors sale for just €7,500 where it was originally priced at €1,500-€2,000 and was in the collection of Maurice Foinet, the owner of a painting supply shop in Paris, who acquired a group of works from the city’s group of avant-garde artists like Giacommetti, Zao Wou-Ki and Max Ernst among others.