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In response to Christie’s £168 million ($230 million) 20th Century sale in London on Tuesday, Sotheby’s staged its now familiar cross category mix of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art today allowing for an Old Master or two to be thrown in and for them to stretch the sale title to "Modern Renaissance." Sotheby’s was still the shorter sale, though. Comprising 47 lots with a pre-sale estimate of £66.6-£93 million ($92 million-$128 million), it came near the top at £96.9 million ($132.6 million). (Sold prices include the buyer’s premium, estimates do not.) Last year, the equivalent sales for Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art at Christie's London comprised 80 lots which sold for £141.5 million ($194.7 million).
Two of the top lots going into the sale were by Edvard Munch, who is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Both left the hands of Jewish owners during World War II before being sold and entered the collection of Norway’s well-known Olsen family, the current consignor. The original owner, industrialist Thomas Olsen, was a friend and patron of the artist, owning 30 works by Munch at the time of his death. Those works were inherited by his two sons Fred and Petter Olsen, who were at the center of a legal dispute around the estate that was settled in 2001.
In 2006, Fred sold two Munchs, including the Linde Frieze, at Sotheby’s in London, where they fetched a collective £23 million ($31.7 million). It’s possible that the buyer in 2006 was Petter, as the ghostly lakeside painting reappeared in yesterday’s auction with a £9 million–£12 million ($12.4 million–$16.5 million) estimate. Four bidders, from London, New York and Hong Kong, vied for the painting, which was one of eight guaranteed lots in the sale. This time, it realized a reasonable return over the 15-year holding period at an above-estimate £16.3 million ($22.4 million), and was won by the Hong Kong bidder.
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