Good Impressions at Sothebys


The dust has safely settled on one of the biggest weeks that the Christie’s and Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern sales has seen in some time. And while Christie’s dispensed with the most expensive art work ever sold at auction, even without a big name estate, Sotheby’s posted solid results at their May 5 evening sale.

Most of the action took place on the phone, as a legion of phone bidders vied for the best lots. This caused little drama in the room but big results when the gavel came down. There were some standout pictures, like Henri Matisse’s beautifully rendered Bouquet pour le quatorze juille (1919, pictured left), emotionally commemorating the first Bastille Day after World War I. The work was estimated at $18–25,000 million. Several phone bidders from Asia went after the work, which was hammered down at $25.5 million, or $28,642,500 with premium, to Sotheby’s Geraldine Nagger on behalf of a European collector.

The mesmerizing Modigliani portrait, Jeaune Hebuterne au collier (1916–1917), depicting his lover and muse as alive with impasto and bathed in light. The stunning picture attracted bidders from many parts of the world. It was bought by a Japanese private collector through a Sotheby’s phone bidder for $12.5 million hammer or $13,802,500 with buyer’s premium. The work had been off the market for 70 years.

Collectors continued to snap up important sculpture. The iconic Rodin sculpture Le Penseur, an Alexis Rudier cast completed during the artist’s lifetime, and thus highly coveted, was fiercely sought after. The work had even made a fairly recent appearance at a Paris sale in June 2009. With at least five bidders vying for the lot, including an unidentified Asian under-bidder, the work breezed past the $4–6 million estimate. It was hammered down to a Sotheby’s phone bidder for $10.5 million, or $11,842,500 with buyer’s premium. The other sought-after sculpture in the sale was a early Isamu Noguchi Undine (Nadja) cast in 1927 as a unique work. The sensuous classical figure attracted a lot of attention-it soared past the $600,000–900,000 estimate and sold to paddle 25, presumably the same buyer as the Rodin sculpture, via the same Sotheby’s telephone bidder. The work sold for $3.7 million ($4,226,500 with buyer’s premium) and set a record for a Noguchi sculpture at auction.

Dealers and collectors were pleased with the “very even sale,” as described by dealer Ezra Chowaiki. Both Modern and Impressionist pictures did very well. The 1890 Monet, Effet de printemps a Giverny, made $15,202,500 million against a pre sale estimate $10–15. Paris dealer and gallery owner Daniel Boulakia described, “The Monet had magic light and was an iconic work; there was a lot of confidence in the market…”

According to the auction house it doubled its November figures and tripled the results of last May. Sotheby’s head of department Simon Shaw said he was thrilled with the results, and added that the sale was without big risks. New York dealer Peter Salhman echoed the feelings of many dealers, “There is confidence in the market—and the extra couple of bids really fed the sale,” referring to Tobias Meyer’s auctioneering. He went on to say that, “There is a good chance for upside appreciation, lots of other asset classes are more volatile.”

The sale total was a whopping $195,697,000 including premium, which worked out to 92.4% sold by dollar and 87.7% sold by lot. Next up: Post-War and Contemporary auction week.