Inside Christies Auction Record



Some news you’ve probably heard already: Picasso’s Nude Green Leaves and Bust (1932) sold for $106.5 million, overcoming the previous auction record for the most expensive work sold at auction. The iconic Picasso and 69 other Impressionist and Modern works were sold Tuesday evening at Christie’s Rockefeller center auction room. The now famous Picasso was part of the also famed collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody, a Los Angeles philanthropist.

Dealers and collectors packed the sale-room with anticipation for the sale of the beautiful “love poem” to Marie-Therese Walter, Picasso’s then secret love and muse, and the favorite subject of collectors. Brody purchased the work from Paul Rosenberg in 1951, and reportedly prized it ever since. It had only been exhibited once publicly in the last 60 years. The five-foot-tall painting depicts a reclining mauve Marie-Therese, shielded by a curtain replete with fruit, and philodendron. Looking down on the sleeping nude is both a chalky white bust and a black outline of the artist’s profile. Works from this series have made several appearances at auction, the most talked about among them. La revue (1932), bought by Steve Wynn at Christie’s in 1999 for $48.4 and subsequently elbowed. Another great example from the series, Jeune Fille devant un Miroir (1932), hangs in MoMA. Of all the pictures, Nude Green Leaves and Bust is perhaps the most full of symbolism, while the size, provenance, and quality added to the mystique. It carried a pre-sale estimate of $70-90 million.

The Picasso was the highlight of 28 lots offered from the Brody collection in the evening sale. The remainder of works will be today in the Day sale. Eight bidders vied for the work at $70 million, including private dealer Guy Bennett, who was one of several under-bidders. After a fierce battle between Marc Porter President of Christie’s and Nick Hal Head Of Old masters, the work was hammered down at $95 million, or $106.5 million with premium, to a telephone bidder.

Conor Jordan, head of Christie’s Impressionist department, later said “the price was richly deserved.” In the Brody sale the other top lots included Alberto Giacometti’s Le Chat, a larger-than-life bronze measuring 31 ½ inches, conceived in 1951 and cast in 1955. Animal images in Giacometti’s oeuvre are sought after by collectors, and this was no exception; the word sold for $18.5 million, or $20.8 million including the buyer’s premium. It was a good night for sculpture-Alberto Giacometti’s, Grande Tete mince, a highly worked larger than life size bust cast in the 1950s,  easily surpassed its pre-sale estimate of $25-35,000 million, with steady back-and-forth bidding. It sold in the room to private dealer Guy Bennett for $47.5 million, or $53,282,500 including premium. Giacometti’s La Main, the thinly cast bronze of an elongated hand sold for $23 million, or $25,842,500 with premium. It was no surprise that Giacometti sculptures surpassd their estimates in light of the record $104 million Walking Man I achieved in London last February at Sotheby’s.

The 69-lot sale was larger than last season’s which may have reflected a renewed confidence sellers were feeling in the market place. After the first 30 lots the sale lost some momentum. The only major upset of the evening was the mesmerizing Edvard Munch, Fertility (1890s), which had no takers at $23 million. One dealer commented, “the work was too sweet for Munch, not enough angst.”

But that did not put a damper on the evening. Picasso’s Femme au chat asisse dans un fauteuil, a 1966 Picasso from the artist’ s recently resurrected late period, sold to a telephone bidder for $16 million, or $18,002,500 with premium. A late 1950s George Braque, La Treille, a still life from the Brody collection, made a record price for the artist, selling for $9 million, or $10,162,500 with premium, against a presale estimate of $3-5 million.

Christie’s sold a total of $335.5 million against a high presale estimate of $262.8-368.3 million. The Brody sale alone earned $224.2 million. I asked veteran dealer Simon Capstick-Dale for his thoughts on the market: “Tonight is entirely representative that really great things sell really well and rare things sell well, demand far outweighs supply.”