The analysis of the November 2020 Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sales at Sotheby's 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.)
Leading up to its final evening sale of the season set to take place on December 8, Sotheby’s announced its contemporary and modern art day auctions brought in a total of $79.4 million last week. Led by Degas, Matisse, Dali and Lévy-Dhurmer in the top-tier, the impressionist and modern art segment of the series brought in $30.5 million with buyer’s premium, hammering at a collective $24.4 million, just 2 percent above the pre-sale estimate of $23.9 million.
Across 168 lots sold, the online sale saw a 78.6 percent sell-through rate (a statistic that is typically lower than the modern art evening sales). The result also moves up Sotheby’s record total for an online sale, more than double the previous high of $13.7 million achieved in May for a contemporary art online sale.
A monumental pastel landscape by French symbolist Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer from the estate of Picasso scholar John Richardson had a pre-sale estimate of $150,000-$250,000 and sold for an impressive $1.96 million. Paysage montagneux (1912) was one of three large-scale canvases from the collection of French industrialist Auguste Rateau offered at Sotheby’s London in 1972, where it sold for just £1200 ($1,596). The top result at Sotheby’s means the painting has appreciated in value by a factor of 1,228 times.
Other works sold in the seven figures saw less favorable returns. Edgar Degas’s portrait of a dancer, Femme debout et vue de face agrafant son made circa 1883, offered with an irrevocable bid sold for $1.4 million, against an estimate of $1.2 million-$1.8 million. The seller purchased the work in 2007 at Christie’s for a price of $1.6 million, where it was sold from the collection of French economist and politician Émile Roche. Coming back to the market with a low estimate 14.3 percent lower than its 2007 expectation of $1.4 million, in its 13 year holding period, the work depreciated in value by 16 percent.
In 2007, the Saint Louis Art Museum deaccessioned Henri Matisse’s 1919 Nu accoudé, a partially-nude portrait of a seated woman from its permanent collection, where it resided for five decades, in order to raise capital for its acquisition fund. The seller, who purchased the painting during Christie’s New York impressionist and modern evening sale in November that year won the work for $1.6 million with buyer’s fees, below the low estimate of $1.8 million. Resurfacing on the market in Sotheby’s sale, the Matisse came back with a low estimate 67 percent lower than its 2007 marker. There, it sold for just $625,000, hammering below the estimate of $600,000-$800,000. The market for works by modern European masters has in recent years seen the affect of litigation around works sold under duress during WWII. The Matisse example passed through the hands of prominent German modern art dealer Justin K. Thannhauser, who was a fixture in a 2009 lawsuit involving the rightful ownership of Pablo Picasso’s Le Moulin de la Galette (1900) at the Guggenheim in New York.
Pierre Bonnard’s small-scale still-life, Assiette de fraises (1896), was among the top performers, selling for $1.2 million and doubling its low estimate of $500,000. Carrying notable provenance—the first owner was Paris-based critic and artist Félix Vallotton (who is the subject of an exhibition currently on view at New York’s Museum of Modern Art)—the seller purchased the work in 2001 at Sotheby’s for $456,750. The present sale marks a 156 percent jump in value over its near two decades with the same private owner. Another example by the artist in the sale, this time a portrait of a reclining nude subject from 1907, followed the same trend. It sold for $1.2 million against an initial estimate of $500,000.
Elsewhere, works of sculpture saw competitive interest in the auction. Salvador Dalí’s 1956 gold rock crystal lamp Untitled (Le Pain et le vin) made for his friend Mafalda Davis, an assistant to Egypt’s Queen Fawzia, achieved $1.1 million with fees, against an estimate of $300,00-$500,000. The sale of the work, featuring some of Dalí’s recurring surrealist motifs: skeletons, bread and butterflies, marks the third highest price paid at auction for a sculpture by the artist. Auguste Rodin’s bronze figurative sculpture Le Baiser cast in the early 20th century came to the market with an irrevocable bid. A total of 8 bids moved the hammer price past the high estimate of $600,000, with the work eventually selling for $746,000 with buyer’s premium. The seller purchased the work more than twenty years ago in 1996 at Christie’s New York for $107,000. The Sotheby’s result saw the bronze appreciate by 597 percent in value over a 24-year holding period.
Since merging Latin American Art offerings with its main modern sales, Sotheby’s has been recording milestone prices for artists in the category. Yet, these sales saw works by key Latin American art figures Wifredo Lam and Rufino Tamayo fall short of expectations. Among the better performers was Mexican modernist active in Paris and Madrid, Angel Zárraga’s single-figure standing nude Andromède made in 1937. It sold for $277,200, hammering within its estimate of $200,000-$300,000. Traded from a Paris to New York collector, the current seller purchased the work at Sotheby’s in 1994 for a final price of $123,500, where it made 4 times its estimate of $30,000. The result yields an increase in value of 124 percent since its last sale 26 years ago. The high for Zárraga’s market came in 2014 when Futbolistas en el llano, a pre-war painting depicting a group of soccer players sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2014 for $949,000; overall, the hammer prices for the artist currently hover between $150,000-$250,000.
This season, day sales have been bolstered by museum deaccessions as U.S. institutions move to raise capital for collection maintenance and acquisition funds. The auction placed three minor works from the Brooklyn Museum with new owners, each meeting their pre-sale estimates. Odilon Redon’s red floral still-life went for $201,600; Edgar Degas’s drawing trois danseuses sold for $119,700; a seascape attributed to the studio of Eugene Boudin sold for $126,000. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts also sold a seaside scene by Eugène Boudin for $226,800, against an estimate of $100,000, with proceeds going to the museum’s acquisition fund. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum sold an untitled drawing by Joan Miró from 1965 for $27,720, against an estimate of $15,000.