After Rocky Start, Christie’s Sale of Impressionist and Modern Works Exceeds High Estimate

Bullet Shih Feb, 2012 0
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Last night’s sale of Impressionist and Modern paintings at Christie’s London was certainly not without drama as the auction came out of the gate quickly with the sale of a Van Gogh , a Pissarro, and a somewhat difficult Degas from the estate of Elizabeth Taylor.  An auction of Taylor’s jewelry last year as well as a recent auction of her Franz Hals showed that collectors were willing to pay a premium for objects from the late actress.  While the Van Gogh and Pissarro were lovely decorative works which had been off the market for a long time and easily sold for a hammer price above the high estimate, the Degas was a tougher sell as it was a self portrait in brown which is in stark contrast to his popular pastels of dancers.  However, it appeared that after the initial excitement of the three Taylor lots, the air was suddenly sucked out of the auction room as a Nolde painting of 3 Russians failed to find a buyer and a Van Dongen Femme au grand chapeau also passed just before the highlight of the evening sale, a Gris still life Le Livre estimated at 12 – 18 million pounds also met a tepid response before being hammered down significantly below the low estimate at 9.2 million.  At this point, observers began to wonder whether all of the recent talk of investors parking their assets in art may have been premature.  However, English sculptor Herny Moore saved the day with frenzied bidding for his Reclining Figure: Festival which sold for over three times the high estimate of 5.5 million pounds for a final tally of just over 19 million pounds or $30 million leaving little doubt that Christie’s would exceed their high estimate for the auction as well as last year’s total of 84.9 million pounds.  However, as evidenced by the Gris, buyers were not willing simply to throw money at what they saw as sub par works with high estimates as a rather clumsy painting by Picasso Nu et tête d’homme later sold for close to half the low estimate at 1.6 million pounds.  It is interesting to note that a small painting by Van Gogh, Pollard Willow, a work on paper painted in 1882 realized just over $2 million, so it seems that this adds somewhat of a base for upstart Indian auction house Saffronart and their sale of a similar small Van Gogh painted on canvas in 1885 and estimated at $800,000 – $1 million in their premier sale of Impressionist art on February 15.

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