NEW YORK: Sotheby’s set a new record for a Blue Period Picasso with a double-sided erotic portrait at Thursday’s $300 million-plus auction of Impressionist and modern art. It helped dim the memory of a flabby result just one night earlier. Making steady if unspectacular prices, just over three-quarters of the 47 works on offer found buyers, with the $306.7 million total including commission comfortably beating the $275 million low pre-sale estimate. Sotheby’s had tagged the high estimate at about $370 million.
As expected, Picasso’s nude “La Gommeuse” (“The Nightclub Singer”) achieved top dollar. Fetching $67.5 million, it met its $60 million expectation. Estimates do not include commission of just over 12 percent.
Among the highlights of the evening, the oil is from Picasso’s Blue Period, painted in Paris in 1901 when the artist was just 19 years old and grieving the suicide of a close friend.
It has the added allure of having a second picture on the reverse side, a discovery made during a conservation intervention in 2000. The second work is a bawdy depiction of Picasso’s dealer, Pere Manach, and includes an inscription indicating it was intended as a gift to him.
The seller was billionaire businessman William Koch – a 1992 America’s Cup winner and brother of Republican Party patrons Charles and David Koch – who had paid $3 million for the twin works in 1984. Later Thursday evening Sotheby’s sold Monet’s 1908 oil on canvas “Nympheas” (water lilies) study, also from Koch’s collection, for $33.85 million.
The sale marked a recovery of sorts from the auction house’s widely touted sale of the collection of its one-time owner and chairman Alfred Taubman, who was famously convicted and briefly imprisoned in 2002 after a price-fixing scandal that also enveloped archrival Christie’s.
That auction made $377 million, barely making its low estimate.
Officials seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, with Simon Shaw, co-head of Impressionist and modern art worldwide, lauding what he called “a small sale that packed a real punch,” and saw “a very strong result for any various owner sale in the category.”
The auction house noted its $1.67 billion Impressionist and modern total for the year so far was already the highest in its 271-year history.
Other highlights included Van Gogh’s atmospheric landscape, “Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé,” which sold for $54 million against a pre-sale estimate of $50 million to $70 million. Sold by the artist’s heirs, Kazimir Malevich’s “Mystic Suprematism,” went for $33.9 million (estimate $35 million to $45 million).
At least two of the top 10 lots were bought by Asian private collectors, continuing a trend of recent seasons. In a sign that prices for top-tier works might be moderating, the sale’s top-priced works all sold at the very lowest end of their estimate ranges.
David Norman, Shaw’s partner, said that with expanding markets like those of the past five years, estimates tend to lag behind rising prices.
“It’s a smart market at the higher price levels,” Norman added. “People are not going to be led by estimates. We’re seeing great prices, but there isn’t a relentless, frothy competition and inflation.”
The auctions continue next week at Sotheby’s and at rival Christie’s which holds three major evening sales.