Last week, Christie’s concluded its top Latin American Art sale rescheduled from its original date in the Spring. With 75 lots on offer ranging from Spanish colonial paintings from the 17th to 18th centuries to Latin American modernists the sale brought in $14 million, down 18% from the previous year total in the May equivalent sale that had 134 lots.
Latin American artists saw a host of new benchmarks this season with the female surrealists seeing heightened collecting interest. The highest priced lots were by modernists for abstract works by Wifredo Lam and Rufino Tamayo. Lam’s Femme Cheval from 1950 placed with a buyer for $2.4 million, landing within its estimate of $2 million to $3 million. That work came to the market for the first time since 1983 from the estate of collector, William Campbell. Lam was the subject of solo surveys at Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York and at Havana’s Parque Central in 1950. These two shows helped promote the femmes cheval series to international acclaim.
Tamayo’s double-figured 1950 painting Dos amantes contemplando la luna achieved $2.3 million hammering near its low estimate. The work had resurfaced on the market after two decades in a private collection. British artist, Leonara Carrington who spent decades of her formative career in Mexico also saw a high result in the auction. Her 1941 painting La joie de patinage (The Joy of Skating) was formerly owned by Alexina Duchamp, ex-wife of Henri Matisse and second wife of Marcel Duchamp. Boasting a strong provenance, the work is valuable for its similarities to her Bird Superior: Portrait of Max Ernst, painted around 1939 in Saint Martin d’Ardèche when she lived with the famous Surrealist. The work placed in the middle of its estimate range, making $519,000, and establishing the work the top 20 prices achieved by the artist at auction.
Later in the sale, works of Spanish colonial art from Peru and Mexico sold above pre-sale estimates. The numbers were as high as in-demand modern painters. Spanish colonial paintings hail from 15th century until around 1820 from Mexico to South America and predominantly feature depictions of religious tropes, namely madonnas and saints indicative of the region’s Catholic origins.
A record price was achieved for Luis de Riaño’s massive 81-by-56 inch 17th century painting, Saint Michael Archangel. The work realized a total price of $495,000 making 12 times its pre-sale low estimate of $40,000. Since its completion in 1640, the painting has only had two owners, first held in a private Caracas collection from where it was gifted to the Christie’s seller. Peruvian-born Riano is a painter in Cuzco School and represented a significant link between Italian Renaissance artists such as Mateo de Alesio under whose style he was taught, Bernado Bitti and Peruvian painters working in the same period.
According to Virgilio Garza, Christie’s Head of Latin American Art, there are several key factors that drove up the painting’s value beyond provenance. “The fact that the painting is signed by a well-known Peruvian painter known for his very narrative depictions of religious scenes, which is rare to find in South American Colonial art, the exaltation to Saint Michael included in the cartouche, and the monstrous figure being defeated adds to the beauty and heightens the drama of the picture.”
Garza noted there has been a recent rise in market demand for Spanish colonial art, both private collectors and institutions, naming LACMA as a key contributor to the field’s advance in the last decade. “There are a number of American collectors who have followed this market very closely” said Garza.
Curatorships and institutional surveys in the field at prominent institutions in the United States have bolstered the market, according to Garza. The first exhibition dedicated to Spanish Colonial art at the Los Angeles Museum, Painted in Mexico, 1700-90: Pinxit Mexici traveled to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018 and was a watershed moment for the niche. The rise in interest in Latin American Modernism has also piqued interest in the historical periods that preceded it.
The market also saw a large contraction in consignments in the 1990s due to export restrictions, which Garza notes to this day makes sourcing high level works for consignment complicated.
Another work by an anonymous Peruvian painter from the 18th century titled Saint Apollonia, acquired by the seller in 2002, sold for $300,000 for 15 times its low estimate of $20,000. A painting depicting the Virgin of Copacabana, the patron saint of Bolivia, crowned and flanked by narrative vignettes sold for $250,000, more than 8 times its low estimate of $30,000. The work was last sold at Sotheby’s in 1992 where it was purchased by a San Francisco dealer before it went to a New York private collection in 1994.
“As scholarship in the field expands, there’s a deeper appreciation fine examples of Spanish Colonial art from the Americas” said Garza, who noted the auction attracted bidding from both new and existing private and institutional clients from North America and Europe.
Three additional artist records were set during the auction for Lilia Carrillo‘s, Roberto Fabelo and Beatriz González.