A group of 14 rare modernist works by artists including Picabia, Moholy-Nagy and Mondrian is expected to ring up for as much as $92 million at auction next week at Sotheby's New York. These paintings, coming from an unnamed European seller, will be among the star offerings at this fall's Impressionist and modern art sales at Christie's and Sotheby's. The auction houses start off the season Nov. 5 and 6 with nearly $600 million worth of works.
"The globalization of the art market continues," New York dealer Daniella Luxembourg told A.i.A. when reached by phone. "There is constantly new money coming into the market—and all wanting the same names. There is huge demand."
An active market has brought out characteristic works by marquee names, as well as rarities. Between the two auction houses, there will be two Picasso depictions of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, two portraits by Alberto Giacometti of his brother Diego, and two Giacomo Balla works showing automobiles in motion. Despite the appearance of two of them next week, Sotheby's department co-chairman David C. Norman, speaking to A.i.A. by phone this week, described Balla's works as "rarer than hen's teeth."
Each house's high estimate for its evening sale—$277 million at Christie's and $313.9 million at Sotheby's—far exceeds the total from the same sales last year, when about 30 percent of works on offer failed to find buyers.
"The feeling is that the market is white hot," David C. Norman told A.i.A. by phone. "There's a uniform belief among professionals and collectors that great works of art have held their value among uncertainty in other markets."
Christie's offers 46 works, estimated to bring a total of $277 million. Among the lots are six Picassos, four each by Henry Moore and Marc Chagall, and a trio of works by both Edgar Degas and Edouard Monet. Christie's lackluster sale of similar material last November tallied $204.8 million.
"It's quite difficult to feed the demand," Christie's deputy chairman Andreas Rumbler told A.i.A. in a phone interview.
The priciest work is Alberto Giacometti's Diego in Scotch Plaid Shirt, a 1954 oil painting, estimated at $30 million to $50 million. Residing with the present unidentified owner since 1992, the work was previously in the collection of Paris's art-dealing Maeght family. The seated figure of Diego, evoked in sketchy black lines and wearing a bright red shirt that is unusual for Giacometti's palette, stands out boldly against an abbreviated gray-brown background.
Christie's expects that Amedeo Modigliani's Monsieur Baranowski, a 1918 oil painting, may bring as much as $35 million. From a private European collector, the 43-inch-high painting shows a Polish émigré and resident of the Montparnasse section of Paris—and a fellow artist. His radiant blue eyes, pursed lips and effeminate tilt of the head vividly characterize an otherwise obscure figure.
"Baranowski's head and features fascinated Modigliani," Brooke Lampley, head of Christie's Impressionist and modern art department, told A.i.A. by phone, "and the sitter provided the perfect model for the artist's serpentine, Mannerist treatment."
Coinciding with the Museum of Modern Art's René Magritte exhibition is Christie's offering of the Belgian's Enchanted Domain (II), a 1953 oil painting. It shows a half-nude woman with a dove in a Surrealist landscape, and is expected to bring as much as $8 million. His auction record is $12.7 million, set in 2002 at Christie's New York.
The following night, Sotheby's offers 65 works, which are estimated to rack up as much as $313.9 million. It's a very different forecast from Sotheby's November 2012 sale of Impressionist and modern art, which brought in about half that number, $163 million on a high estimate of $245 million. Among the offerings are seven Picassos and five each by Chagall, Pissarro and Alfred Sisley. Just two works, one by Léger and one by Jacques Lipschitz, are marked as guaranteed to sell to buyers who have placed irrevocable bids.
"At the risk of sounding like someone who loves art, rather than someone who just cares about prices, Sotheby's has some true opportunities for the real collector of 20th-century art, who's not just speculating," New York dealer Frances Beatty Adler, of Richard L. Feigen & Co., told A.i.A. by phone.
Opening the evening's proceedings will be the 14 modernist works. All have been off the market since prior to 1975 and were purchased from Paris's Galerie Tarica, according to the catalogue. This group comes to market just a few months before the exhibition "Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe," at New York's Guggenheim Museum (Feb. 21-Sept. 1, 2014).
The highest estimate among these works is for Balla's 1913 oil and ink on paper Moving Automobile, an abstract work in which motion is evoked with raking diagonal lines and multiple swirl shapes.
"These are beautiful, remarkable, rare things," New York dealer Emmanuel Di Donna, of gallery Blain | Di Donna, told A.i.A., speaking of the Tarica gallery works. Of the sales overall, he added, "Prices have gotten so high that it's become very interesting for sellers to come to market. The estimates are up there, so I don't think the houses are going to outperform them, but if these works sell within their estimates, they'll be doing well."
The priciest work on offer for the night overall is Alberto Giacometti's 1955 bronze Large Thin Head (Large Head of Diego), estimated to bring as much as $50 million. The 25-inch-high work has had only two owners, and has been in the same collection since 1980 (the seller is unidentified).
It's not all moderns among the high-priced lots: Claude Monet's Ice, White Effect (1893), is tagged at $9 million to $14 million. The winter landscape shows ice floating on the Seine. But the notable works next week are principally the moderns, since, as Luxembourg points out, "the major Impressionist works are all already in museum collections."
"We're seeing a diminishing interest in Impressionist works," Beatty Adler said.
But the modern works are garnering acclaim from market watchers.
"There are a handful of really top-quality works on the market," New York art advisor Andrea Crane told A.i.A. "Things like the Giacomo Balla on offer at Sotheby's, for example, are nearly impossible to find. If I were building a first-class collection, that is one of the pieces I would go after."
"Some of these pieces have aggressive estimates," she added. "But as the legendary dealer Joseph Duveen always said, an aggressive price for a masterpiece is a steal."