Monet, Modigliani, Low Estimates Boost Christie’s London Sale

Feb. 5 – Portraits by Claude Monet and Amedeo Modigliani were the top lots at a Christie’s International auction in London last night after the company reduced price estimates for its first test of the 2009 art market.

Its 47-lot auction of Impressionist and modern art made 63 400 000 pounds ($91 600 000) with fees, against a revised low total forecast of 58 8000 000 pounds, based on hammer prices. Dealers said that Christie’s, like rival Sotheby’s the day before, was trying to bolster demand weakened by the financial crisis.

“The auction houses have been sensible,” London-based art dealer James Holland-Hibbert said, in an interview. “They’ve dropped estimates and things are selling. But people are still waiting to see how far prices will fall.”

Monet’s Impressionist 1876 painting “Dans la Prairie,” showing his wife Camille reclining and reading in a flower-strewn meadow, attracted a single bid of 11 200 000 pounds, with fees, from Paris-based Christie’s specialist Anika Guntrum bidding on the telephone for a client.

The 2-foot 8-inch wide canvas had been estimated by the auction house to fetch 15 000 000 pounds, making it the most valuably estimated work offered in London’s February series of Impressionist and modern art sales. Its final price was less than a bronze version of Degas’s best-known “Little Dancer” sculpture that sold on Feb. 3 at Sotheby’s for 13 300 000 pounds.

Historical Demand

Dealers said the Monet result shows early Impressionist art is falling out of fashion. In 1988, at the height of the last art-market boom, when Japanese bidders were bulk-buying classic Impressionist works, the painting sold at Sotheby’s in London for 14 300 000 pounds with fees.

It had last appeared on the auction market in November 1999 at Sotheby’s New York, where it sold for $15 400 000.

The Monet was one of four Impressionist-period lots from the same European collection estimated to sell for more than 1 500 000 pounds each. All four works had been bought between May 1998 and May 2000.

Among these, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s 1895 oil-on-board picture of two girls lying on a bed in a brothel, “L’abandon (Les deux amies),” had a low estimate of 5 000 000 pounds. In May 2000, it sold at Sotheby’s at its main New York saleroom for $9 400 000.

Non-Sellers

Last night, it sold to the same Paris-based telephone bidder for 6 200 000 pounds. An 1872 Monet landscape and a Renoir painting of bathers from about 1892 failed to sell against low estimates of 3 500 000 pounds and 1 500 000 pounds each.

“People want the later series paintings by Monet,” said Nicholas Maclean, of the New York-based art advisers Eykyn Maclean. “The subject of the Toulouse-Lautrec was also a bit problematic.”

Among works entered by other sellers, the most expensive proved to be Modigliani’s 1918 painting “Les deux filles.” One of only five double portraits the artist executed, this unrestored canvas had never appeared at auction before. Three telephone bidders pushed the price up to 6 500 000 pounds, against an estimate of 3 500 000 pounds to 5 000 000 pounds.

A group of four colorful Kees van Dongen paintings of women, fresh to the market from the same private collection, all sold for a total of 6 400 000 pounds, with fees, against a low estimate of 4 100 000 pounds.

Cabaret Actress

The 4-foot 3-inch wide canvas, “La cuirasse d’or,’’ showing a cabaret actress lounging in a gold dress, headed the group with a price of 2 900 000 pounds with fees. Thought to have been painted around 1907, it had a low estimate of 1 500 000 pounds.

“These paintings were valued 30 to 40 percent higher when they were originally estimated in July last year,” Thomas Seydoux, Christie’s international co-head of Impressionist and modern art, said. “But because they were priced more reasonably we achieved our original valuations at the sale itself.”

The low estimate on Edouard Vuillard’s 1890 painting of seamstresses, “Les couturieres,” — the one guaranteed work in the sale — was reduced closer to the auction time to 4 500 000 pounds from 5 500 000 pounds. This helped it attract a single bid of 5 100 000 pounds with fees from an Asian telephone bidder.

While the auction total was 60 percent lower than the 105 400 000 pounds Christie’s took at the equivalent sale in London last year, 83 percent of the lots found buyers. The company’s November Impressionist and modern sale in New York sold just 56 percent of the lots.

Currency Effect

“Fresh material from private collections helped this sale,” said Seydoux. “The dropped pound was also super, super helpful” in making purchases cheaper for buyers from outside the U.K. He described conditions in the market as “transitional.”

There was a shift in taste among buyers from classic Impressionist paintings of the 1870s to post-1900 pieces, said Seydoux.

“Modern works are producing more live and exciting bidding,’’ he said.

Sixteen lots sold for more than 1 000 000 pounds. Christie’s said 54 percent of the works were bought by European bidders, 26 percent from the U.S., 18 percent from the U.K. and 2 percent from Asia.

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Published in: on February 6, 2009 at 8:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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