Last week, with highlights by leading modernists in the category: Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Fernando Botero, Matta and Wifredo Lam, Christie’s held its seasonal Latin American Art sale. Realizing a total of $9 million, across 53 lots, the sale’s performance fell below expectations, placing only 63 percent of lots with new buyers and reaching a collective price 27 percent below the pre-sale low estimate of $12.3 million.
Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s Card Players (1985) sold for $2 million, against an estimate of $1 million-$1.5 million, making it the leading lot of the group. An untitled abstraction from 1959 by Matta sold for $231,250, against an estimate of $100,000. Each of those works were new to the market, coming from private collections to which they were acquired from Marlborough gallery in the 1980s. The sale also realized a new record for Haitian Surrealist Hector Hyppolite, whose portrait of a reclining woman, La Dame en vert – La Sirène, sold from the estate of Jamaican collector Wallace Campbell completed around the year 1947 made $100,000, against an estimate of $70,000. The price surpassed Hyppolite’s last record of $75,000 paid for his Portrait of Jean-Jacques Dessalines in 2017 at Christie’s New York. This was also the work’s debut on the market. Another from the Campbell collection, Manuel Mendive’s 1992 canvas The Eyes of the Snail went for $68,750, doubling the $30,000 low estimate, but still around half of the artist’s record price of $125,000 paid for Energías para el amor y la bondad at Christie’s New York in 2017.
The seller of Wifredo Lam’s brown and white abstraction Femme Cheval from 1955, which failed to find a new owner, purchased it at Sotheby’s in November 2003 for $579,200, where it was estimated at $300,000-$400,000. Despite recent milestones in Lam’s market, including a new record price of $9.6 million paid for his colorful abstraction Omi Obini (1943) at Sotheby’s in June, Femme cheval failed to draw interest in its second appearance at auction, despite being touted as the top lot, carrying an estimate of $2.7-$3.7 million. While the Lam canvas and another untitled 1960 picture by Matta were among the notable disappointments, the segment of the auction which offered Spanish colonial paintings from the 17th to 18th centuries saw those works far surpass expectations.
A detailed painting by an anonymous 18th century artist titled Birth of the Virgin sold for $325,00 with buyer’s fees, against an estimate of $100,000. Another by an anonymous artist from the same period made a price of $325,000, eight times the low estimate of $40,000. Our Lady of the Forsaken attributed to an Andean artist of the 18th century went for $125,000, also eight times its pre-sale expectation of $15,000. Our Lady of the Rosary as a Pilgrim, another ornate depiction of the Virgin and child passed by descent from a private London collection to the seller went for $52,000, against an estimate of $8,000. What each of these works have in common is their novelty to the market, and in most cases a record of only one owner. As seen in the last Latin American sale at Christie’s, demand for Spanish colonial paintings well outpaces the pre-sale estimates assigned to these examples. The driver of this market rise is in part attributed to their rarity on the market, a concentration of American collectors driving up sale prices, and recent scholarly attention to the field of Viceroyal art at institutions like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Occupying a small corner of the sale, contemporary artists with recently made works attracted attention. A triptych portrait of a woman by contemporary Cuban painter Roberto Fabelo’s, acquired by the seller from the artist, Cielo, tierra y mar (2015) sold for $437,500 against an estimate of $100,000. Another Cuban painter Tomás Sánchez’s Finding the Meditator, a forest scene from 2020, made $125,000 against an estimate of $60,000.