Without its Leading Picasso, Christie’s Still Pulls Off Solid US$416m Impressionist Modern Sale Against All Odds

Coming to the second day in the busy auction week in New York, Christie’s pulled off a remarkable Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale even though the leading Picasso painting had been withdrawn due to damage. Christie's achieved a sale total of US$416m against all odds, prevailing in the competition with its rival Sotheby’s.

Le Marin, Picasso’s 1943 self-portrait, was a blockbuster lot from the sale. Created in 1943, the painting reflects the artist's emotional and psychological distress for the crisis he faced in World War II, a time where he was under the threat of being deported to a concentration camp. The painting was expected to fetch US$75m.

The painting was withdrawn from the auction after it was damaged on Friday. The owner is Steve Wynn, the casino mogul who founded Wynn Resorts.

Replacing Picasso as the leading lot was Suprematist Composition by Kazimir Malevich, an avant-garde Russian artist who laid down the foundations of Suprematism. Suprematism is an art movement focusing on basic geometric forms painted in a limited range of colours. The painting carried a pre-sale estimate of US$72m. 

It was previously sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2008 for US$60m. After 10 years, the painting went up for sale at Christie’s, starting with an opening bid of US$60m. It attracted the interest from a gentleman in the room and a telephone bidder represented by Alex Rotter (the third from the right in image below), Co-Chairman of Postwar and Contemporary Art.

The painting was hammered down at US$76m and sold to the gentleman in the room for US$85.8m with premium, setting an auction record for the artist.

The second-highest price was achieved by Constantin Brancusi’s La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard). Constantin Brancusi was a pioneer of modern sculpture and his visionary sculptures often exemplify ideal and archetypal representations of their subject matter. The present work was inspired by Nancy Cunard, a legendary personality of the Parisian années folles.

Started at US$50m, the sculpture was hammered down at US$63m, below its estimate US$70m. It was sold for US$71m with buyer’s premium to the client represented by Loic Gouzer (the third from the right in image above). Co-Chairman of Postwar and Contemporary art. Offered at auction for the first time, the sculpture broke the auction record for Constantin Brancusi.

Another highlight from the sale was Vincent van Gogh’s Vue de l’asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Rémy, carrying a pre-sale estimate of US$35m-55m. Created in 1889, it was painted from the artist’s time at the asylum of Saint Paul de Mausole.

The painting was given an opening bid of US$24m and hammered down at US$35m. It was sold for US$39.7m with buyer’s premium to the client bidding through Conor Jordan, Deputy Chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art (the second from the right in image below).  

Seven out of all 40 lots offered were passed or withdrawn, making a 83 percent sold by lot and a sale total of US$416m. In comparison, Sotheby’s recorded 13 passed lots and one withdrawn lot , delivering a 70 percent sold by lots. The sale total was US$318m.


Top five lots

Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). Suprematist Composition.

Lot no.: 12A
Created in: 1916
Size: 88.7 x 71.1cm

  • The artist.
  • With Hugo Häring, Berlin and Biberach;
  • Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (acquired from the above, circa 1958).
  • Restituted to the family of the artist (2008); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 3 November 2008, lot 6.
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

Estimate: US$72,000,000
Hammer price: US$76,000,000
Price realized: US$85,812,500

Constantin Brancuși (1876-1957). La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard).

Lot no.: 19A
Created in: Conceived in 1928 and cast in 1932
Height: 80cm (overall)

  • Acquired from the artist by the family of the present owner, 1955.

Estimate: US$70,000,000
Hammer price: US$63,000,000
Price realized: US$71,000,000

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). Vue de l’asile et de la Chapelle Saint-Paul de Mausole (Saint-Rémy).

Lot no.: 24A
Created in: 1889
Size: 45.2 x 60.3cm

  • Theo van Gogh, Paris (by descent from the artist).
  • Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Paris (by descent from the above).
  • Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the above, 20 February 1907).
  • Margarete Mauthner, Berlin (acquired from the above, May 1907).
  • With Galerie Marcel Goldschmidt & Co., Frankfurt-am-Main and Berlin.
  • Alfred Wolf, Stuttgart, Lintal, Switzerland and Buenos Aires (acquired from the above, after 1928); Estate sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 24 April 1963, lot 6.
  • Elizabeth Taylor, Los Angeles (acquired through her father Francis Taylor at the above sale); Estate sale, Christie's, London, 7 February 2012, lot 12.
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

Estimate: US$35,000,000 - 55,000,000
Hammer price: US$35,000,000
Price realized: US$39,687,500

Joan Miró (1893-1983). Femme entendant de la musique.

Lot no.: 5A
Painted on 11 May 1945
Size: 128.5 x 161.6cm

  • Galerie Pierre, Paris.
  • Galerie Maeght, Paris.
  • Vladimir Golschmann, St. Louis (before 1956).
  • Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
  • Grace Sharpe, New York.
  • Evelyn Sharp, New York (by 1959).
  • Perls Galleries, New York.
  • Hans Neumann, Caracas (by 1976 and until at least 1984).
  • Private collection, New York (acquired from the above); Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 14 November 1990, lot 31.
  • Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired at the above sale).
  • Acquired from the above by the late owners, 9 November 2000.

Estimate: US$10,000,000 - 15,000,000
Hammer price: US$19,000,000
Price realized: US$21,687,500

Fernand Leger (1881-1955). Le grand déjeuner.

Lot no.: 11A
Created in: 1921
Size: 65.2 x 92cm

  • Galerie l'Effort Moderne (Léonce Rosenberg), Paris (by 1924).
  • Jacques Zoubaloff, Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 27 November 1935, lot 143.
  • Private collection, France.
  • Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the above, 9 July 1966).
  • Private collection, United States (acquired from the above, 25 May 1967).
  • Stephen Hahn, New York (by 1985 and until at least 1991).
  • Private collection (acquired from the above).
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2007.

Estimate: US$15,000,000 - 25,000,000
Hammer price: US$17,000,000
Price realized: US$19,437,500

Auction summary

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale
Lots offered: 40
Sold: 33
Unsold: 7
Sold by lot: 83%
Sale total: US$416,040,000