Christie’s Notches US$480m Impressionist and Modern Sale, Boosted by Van Gogh’s Painting

Hyped up by Gogh’s Laboureur dans un champ, the leading lot of the sale, Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Sale achieved a remarkable total of US$480m. Over 12 paintings were sold for prices above US$10m each.

The atmosphere in the room heated up with the appearance of Rene Magritte’s L’empire des lumières. The bidding began at US$10.5m and the painting was knocked down at US$18m after 15 bid increments. It was sold for US$20.5m with buyer’s premium, setting a new auction record for the Belgian surrealist artist.

The first climax of the sale was brought by Fernand Leger's Contraste de forms. Offered a staggering opening price at US$56m, the painting was hammered down for US$62m following six bid increments. It was sold for US$70m, breaking the auction record of US$39.24m previously set in 2012 for the artist.

This painting exemplifies a personal form of Cubism created by Fernand Leger in his early works. The artist was later influenced by his experience in World War I and then gradually modified his style into a more figurative, populist style. This painting was painted in 1913, before the artist’s "mechanical period", during which the figures and objects he painted were characterized by sleekly rendered tubular and machine-like forms.

Les régates de Nice

Matinée sur la Seine

Before the sale reached its pinnacle, two other masterpieces were hammered down within their estimates . Les régates de Nice, painted by Fauvist artist Henri Matisse, was sold for US$166m; French Impressionist Claude Monet’s Matinée sur la Seine was sold for US$23.3m.

The focal point of the sale fell to lot 28, Laboureur dans un champ. This painting was painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1889, a year before the artist committed suicide. During that time, Vincent was devastated following a violent argument with his close friend Paul Gauguin. He was already deeply upset at having received word from his brother Theo that he planned to marry; Vincent worried that this development would end their close relationship, on which he was emotionally and financially dependent. Suffering from a delirium of hallucinations and self-recrimination, Van Gogh cut off his left ear and was placed under hospital care and supervision.

Marc Porter on the phone

The bidding opened at US$42m and increased to US$44m after the first increment. Marc Porter, Chairman, Americas, speeded up the pace by offering US$55m straightaway. The bidding battle started getting serious and it came down to two telephone bidders - one represented by Port and the other one represented by Rebecca Wei, President of Christie's Asia.

The Van Gogh’s painting was sold to Wei’s client

The auctioneer knocked the hammer down at US$72m. The painting was sold to Wei’s client for US$81.3m, making it the second most expensive painting by Van Gogh. The artist’s top record is now held by Portrait du Dr. Gachet, which was sold for US$82.5m at Christie’s in 1990.

Another highlight of the sale was Pablo Picasso’s Femme accroupie (Jacqueline), which drew buyer’s attention in the later part of the sale. It is a portrait of Picasso ultimate paramour and eventual second wife, Jacqueline Roque.

Charmie Hamami (the middle one)

Started at US$12m, the bidding steadily went up to US$20m. The bid increment was then lowered from US$1m to $500,000 and the bidding battle continued. The painting was hammered down for US$32.5m after approximately 30 bid increments. It was sold for US$36.8m to the telephone bidder represented by Charmie Hamami, Deputy Chairman of Christie's Southeast Asia.

The auction was presided over by Adrian Meyer, the co-chairman of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department. It pulled off a sale total of US$480m, the second-highest total for an Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale.


Top 6 Lots (by price realized)

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Laboureur dans un champ.

Lot no.: 28A
Created in: early September 1889
Size: 50.3 x 64.9cm
Provenance (consolidated by The Value):

  • Theo van Gogh, Paris (sent to him by the artist, 6 December 1889).
  • Willemina van Gogh, Leiden (gift from the artist through the above).
  • C.M. van Gogh, Amsterdam (acquired from the above through Jo van Gogh-Bonger, September 1908).
  • Fritz Meyer-Fierz, Zürich (acquired from the above, 1908); sale, Frederick Muller & Cie., Amsterdam, 13 July 1926, lot 12.
  • Huinck Art Gallery, Utrecht.
  • Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin (by 1928).
  • M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, January 1929).
  • W.H. Crocker, San Mateo (acquired from the above, 23 March 1929); Estate sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 25 February 1970, lot 13.
  • E.V. Thaw & Co., Inc., New York.
  • Acquired from the above by the late owners, 1982.

Estimate Upon Request
Hammer price: US$72,000,000
Price realized: US$81,312,500

Fernad Léger (1881-1955). Contraste de forms.

Lot no.: 14A
Created in: 1913
Size: 92.4 x 73.2cm
Provenance (consolidated by The Value):

  • Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris.
  • Galerie Simon (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (acquired from the above).
  • J.B. Neumann, Berlin.
  • Klaus Gebhard, Elberfeld (circa 1920).
  • Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne (acquired from the above, 1954).
  • Hans Arnhold, New York (acquired from the above, 1956).
  • By descent from the above to the present owner.

Estimate Upon Request
Hammer price: US$62,000,000
Price realized: US$70,062,500

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Femme accroupie (Jacqueline).

Lot no.: 39A
Painted on: 8 October 1954
Size: 146 x 114cm

  • Estate of the artist.
  • Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris.
  • Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, before 1988.

Estimate: US$20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer price: US$32,500,000
Price realized: US$36,875,000

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Matinée sur la Seine.

Lot no.: 26A
Created in: 1897
Size: 89.3 x 92.3cm


  • (possibly) Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris and Isidore Montaignac, Paris (acquired from the artist, 1898).
  • Fairfield Gallery, Connecticut.
  • Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, November 1951).
  • Emily E. and Dudley S. Blossom Jr., Cleveland (acquired from the above, June 1955).
  • Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1986).
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2003.

Estimate: US$15,000,000 - 25,000,000
Hammer price: US$20,500,000
Price realized; US$23,375,000

Joan Miro (1893-1983). Peinture

Lot no.: 31A
Painted on: 4 April 1933

Size: 129.8 x 161.9cm

  • Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist, by 1936).
  • Dr. and Mrs. Leslie Maitland, Los Angeles (by 1941).
  • Lee Ault & Company, Inc., New York (by 1959).
  • Perls Galleries, New York.
  • Acquired from the above by the late owners, June 1980.

Estimate: US$18,000,000 - 25,000,000
Hammer price: US$20,500,000
Price realized: US$23,375,000

René  Magritte (1898-1967). L’empire des lumières.

Lot no.: 12A
Created in: 1949

Size: 48.5 x 58.7cm

  • Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist, August 1949).
  • Hugo Gallery, New York (acquired from the above).
  • Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York (acquired from the above, 30 March 1950).
  • Louise Auchincloss Boyer, New York (gift from the above, December 1950).
  • Gordon Auchincloss Robbins, New York (by descent from the above, July 1974).
  • Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York (acquired from the above).
  • Daniel Filipacchi, Paris (acquired from the above, 1974).
  • Byron Gallery, New York (by 1978).
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1981.

Estimate: US$14,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer price: US$18,000,000
Price realized: US$20,562,500


Auction summary

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
Auction date: 2017/11/13
Sale total: US$480,414,000
No. of lots: 68

Sold: 61
Unsold: 7
Average price per lot: US$7,875,639

Sell-through rate: 90%

(All prices realized have included buyer’s premium unless otherwise specified)