Christie’s ‘Secret Weapon’ in Rockefeller’s ‘Sale of the Century’

In recent years, Asian art collectors have been making their ways into the auction industry as they start buying more masterpieces of Western art. Rockefeller’s ‘Sale of the Century’ has commenced yesterday with an evening sale in New York. It was a record-breaking night for many artists, particularly for the master of Impressionism, Claude Monet, as well as the leader of Fauvism, Henri Matisse. Each of these two paintings realised over US$70,000,000 and it is very likely that they were acquired by an Asian, or perhaps a Chinese collector.

Xin Li and Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur

Both Monet and Matisse’s masterpieces were sold to a mysterious telephone bidder who was represented by Christie’s ‘secret weapon’ - Xin Li-Cohen.

Xin Li was previously a fashion model who joined the modeling industry when she was 19, and just a year later, she moved to Paris and stunned the fashion world. Not long after, she was seen on almost all fashion runways and brand posters. She had become a top model.

Picasso’s granddaughter brought Xin Li into the auction world

Xin Li met Picasso’s granddaughter, Diana Picasso, in a cocktail party at a fashion event. Li was led into the art world and joined Sotheby’s at the age of 32. Very soon, Christie’s saw her ambition and her potential to attract Chinese clients. Thus, she was headhunted and began her career at Christie’s.

Xin Li is currently the deputy chairwoman of Christie’s and is responsible for connecting masterpieces with all the millionaires and art collectors from Asia, especially those in the Chinese mainland. As Christie’s ‘secret weapon’, she successfully bidded Monet and Matisse’s paintings for her client. Undoubtedly, many were stroke by the idea that her client, or even clients, might be Chinese.

Let us take a look at how Xin Li helped her clients get hold of these two artworks.

First came Matisse’s Odalisque couchée aux magnolias. It started at an opening bid of US$50.8m and after 4 bids, Li made an offer of US$70m. Loic Gouzer, International Specialist and Chairman for the Post-War & Contemporary Art Department at Christie's Auction House, then made a bid of US$71m. The painting was hammered down when Li raised her bid to US$71.5m. The artwork was sold for US$80.75m with premium, breaking Matisse’s personal record in auction.

Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur caused more intense bidding in comparison. Starting at US$36m, five bidders were competing against each other, including Xin Li. However, she only joined in when the price rose to US$64m.

The strategy of increasing the bid by a larger amount had helped Li in putting pressure on the other bidders. Li was raising the bids by US$1.5m- US$2m while the others were raising them by US$500k- US$1m. The painting was hammered down for Li at US$75m.  

The painting with premium was sold for US$84.6m, breaking the artist’s personal record again.


Monet and Matisse’s Paintings Bidded By Xin Li

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Nymphéas en feur.

Lot no.: 10

Painted: circa 1914-1917

Size: 160.3 x 180 cm


  • Estate of the artist.

  • Michel Monet, Giverny (by descent from the above).

  • Galerie Katia Granoff, Paris (acquired from the above, circa 1955).

  • Acquired from the above through M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York by the late owners, June 1956.

Estimate: US$35,000,000

Hammered price: US$75,000,000

Prize realised: US$84,687,500

Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Odalisque couchée aux magnolias.

Lot no.: 8

Painted: 1923

Size: 60.5 x 81.1 cm


  • Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the artist, 17 December 1923 and until at least 1945).

  • Leigh B. and Mary Block, Chicago (by 1956).

  • Sam Salz, Inc., New York (acquired from the above).

  • Acquired from the above by the late owners, January 1958.

Estimate: US$50,000,000

Hammered price: US$71,500,000

Prize realised: US$80,750,000


Auction Summary

Auction house: Christie’s

Sale: '19th and 20th Century Art Evening Sale' - The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller

Sale date: 2018/5/8

Lots offered: 44

Sold by lots: 100%

Sale total: US$646,498,750