Art Market

$269.6 Million Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Sale Led by Record-Breaking Chagall

Anna Louie Sussman
Nov 15, 2017 2:19PM

Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Tuesday evening’s sale of Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby’s brought in $269.6 million, a 71% rise from the prior year’s sale but well short of rival Christie’s $479 million Monday night haul.

Nearly all of the 64 works at Sotheby’s found a buyer (often in Asia), for a 92% sell-through rate by lot. But many of the works sold after just a few bids and for below their low estimates, including some of the bigger-ticket items.

“[Sotheby’s] bidding is a lot more thin than last night,” said Morgan Long, senior director at The Fine Art Group, referring to Impressionist and Modern evening sale at Christie’s on Monday. “A lot of works are being sold to their guarantors or one bid above.”

The total before the buyer’s fees, which both Sotheby’s and Christie’s increased this fall, came to $232.1 million. The result still marks a substantial rise from the $157.7 million notched in the fall of 2016 on a 42-lot sale, and suggests the market is loosening up. Both buyers and sellers are more comfortable trotting out their wallets or their merchandise and rolling the dice than they have been in the past few sales cycles.

Asian bidders were responsible for much of the night’s biggest spending and went home with five out of the top 10 sales of the night. (One bidder, wielding paddle L0016, went home with no fewer than three of the sale’s top lots.) The biggest prize of the evening, Marc Chagall’s lush, jewel-toned Les Amoureux (1928), went to a Russian collector.

After just two evening sales, and before the last Leonardo da Vinci painting in private hands even hits the block, the week is nearly three-fourths of the way to the $1 billion mark.

Sotheby’s this week is playing ant to Christie’s grasshopper. There were no eye-wateringly expensive works along the lines of two mega-lots at Christie’s Monday night—Vincent van Gogh’s Laboureur dans un Champ (1889), which was hammered down at $72 million, and Fernand Léger’s Contraste de Formes (1913), which set a new artist record at $62 million before fees. Instead, Sotheby’s had a series of attractively priced gems, with five selling for eight figures.

Chagall’s Les Amoureux (1928) was one of the few lots to garner an extended bidding war. It shows the artist with his childhood sweetheart and first wife Bella Rosenfeld, surrounded by verdant foliage and flowers. It was painted during his time in France, where he lived from 1923 to 1941, at which point the family fled to the U.S. to escape World War II. The painting sold to a Russian buyer for $25 million, or $28.4 million after fees, beating out an Asian collector on the phone with Patti Wong, chair of Sotheby’s Asia. The result is nearly double the artist’s previous auction record of $14.8 million (with fees) and well above the work’s $12 million to $18 million pre-sale estimate.  

Two works by Claude Monet were each estimated to sell for between $18 million to $25 million. The first of the two, Les Glaçons, Bennecourt (1893), is an ethereal scene of ice floes on the Seine, and may have been exhibited at the gallery of the famous Parisian dealer Henri Durand-Ruel in 1895. It went for $20.5 million or $23.3 million with fees. It was last sold at Sotheby’s in 1983 for $605,000, according to a statement from the auction house.

The second big-ticket Monet of the evening, Les Arceaux de Roses, Giverny (1913), depicts vibrant rose-covered trellises at the artist’s famous country home. It notched $17 million, or $19.4 million with fees, failing to breach the low end of its presale estimate. At its last  appearance at auction in 2007, it sold for £8.9 million, or $17.7 million with fees.

The third of Sotheby’s star lots, Pablo Picasso’s colorful Buste de Femme au Chapeau (1939), reflects aspects of two of the artist’s mistresses, model Marie-Thérèse Walter and the photographer and painter Dora Maar. It remained in the artist’s possession until his death in 1973, and then was sold privately several times. On Tuesday night, it sold for $19 million, or $21.6 million with fees, with proceeds going to charitable organizations, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

The moody, surreal forest scene Le Banquet (1955–57) by René Magritte also carried an estimate of $12 million to $18 million. It went just at the low estimate for $12 million, $13.6 million with fees, but still doubled the price at its last appearance at auction in May 2007, when it sold for $6.7 million at Christie’s, including fees.

Chagall’s blue-tinged Le Grand Cirque (1956) shows a collection of circus performers and musicians, a depiction of what Chagall called “the performance that seems to me the most tragic,” but a theme to which he returned again and again. Estimated at $10 million to $15 million, it sold for $14 million, or $16 million with fees.  

Picasso’s Le Viol (1940), described by Sotheby’s as “one of Picasso’s most provocative portrayals of the sexual act, rendered on the eve of the Nazi invasion of France,” fetched $7.5 million, or $8.6 million after fees, well below its $8 million to $12 million estimate, and a steep drop from the $13.5 million paid for it at Sotheby’s five years ago. One might guess that it’s currently a less-than-ideal news cycle in which to pitch a brutal rape scene like the small, ink-on-paper work.  

Another Picasso, the painting Homme Assis au Casque et à L’épée (1969), had a similar estimate and also came in below expectations, fetching $8 million, or $9.2 million after fees. Painted during his prolific later years, it is one of a series of musketeers, a subject matter that “signified the golden age of painting” to the artist, according to the catalogue.  

The week continues with Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s holding their post-war and contemporary art sales on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Christie’s will present Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi on Wednesday night, alongside Andy Warhol’s Sixty Last Suppers. The two paintings together are estimated to bring in $150 million.

Anna Louie Sussman


An previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Claude Monet’s Les Arceaux de Roses, Giverny sold in 2007 for $8.9 million with fees. It was sold for £8.9 million, or $17.7 million, with fees.