Records for Under-Recognized Artists Bring Sotheby’s Modern Art Sale to $408.5 M.


Against the backdrop of a busy week for art in New York headlined by the Frieze art fair, a sale of 60 works of Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s on Monday evening brought in a total of $408.5 million.

Of the entire grouping of 58 works offered, 33 were backed by the auction house with a guarantee or an irrevocable bid. By the end of the two-hour sale led by auctioneer Oliver Barker, 7 lots went unsold.

The group of works surpassed the house’s $339.9 million collective low estimate for the sale, which drew of room only half full of spectators. Records were set for under-recognized artists whose secondary markets are less established, including Milton Avery, Leonora Carrington, Maximilien Luce and Jared French. Three lots were withdrawn prior to the sale’s start.

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Painting of dance scene Two art handlers holding painting Claude Monet, Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute, 1908.

The work which fetched the highest price was Pablo Picasso’s 1932 canvas Femme nue couchée, which depicts the Spanish modernist’s muse Marie-Thérèse Walter in repose. It sold for $67.5 million, reaching its $60 million estimate and going to ex-Sotheby’s chairman and art advisor Amy Cappellazzo who was bidding in the room. Artnet News reported that the painting was being sold by the hedge-funder Steve Cohen.

Another big-ticket item was Paul Cézanne’s woodsy landscape The Glade (ca. 1895), which sold for $41.7 million with fees, against an estimate of $30 million. Coming to the sale with a guarantee, the work was one of three being deaccessioned by Ohio’s Toledo Museums of Art to benefit its acquisition fund, in a move that drew criticism ahead of the sale. The Cézanne and the other works by Henri Matisse and Pierre-Auguste Renoir being deaccessioned generated a total of $59.7 million.

Meanwhile, Claude Monet’s lush garden landscape Les Arceaux de roses, Giverny (1913) hammered at its low estimate on a bid of $20 million, going to a buyer on the phone with Sotheby’s Asia chairman Patty Wong. It went for a final price of $23.3 million. Another bidder on the phone with Wong won a four-foot-tall bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, titled Femme de Venise II, for a final price of $17.5 million with fees. The result doubled the estimate of $8 million.

Painting of an abstracted nude woman in repose. Pablo Picasso, Femme nue couchée, 1932. Courtesy Christie’s

A 1958 oil painting on paper by Willem de Kooning, titled Leaves in Weehawken, sold for $10 million to a bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s New York contemporary specialist Bame Fierro March, who triumphed over vice chairman of Sotheby’s fine arts division, Simon Shaw and another in the room, to win it. The hammer price was more than three times the low estimate.

Given his just-opened retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Philip Guston’s 1958 painting Nile was expected to be a major attraction at tonight’s sale. Offered in the sale with an irrevocable bid and sold to benefit a Texas philanthropic foundation, the work saw only tepid interest. The piece hammered below its $20 million estimate, ultimately selling for $18 million with fees.

Eight works came to sale under the descriptor “Eternal Style: A Private American Collection.” A UCC filing by Sotheby’s that was reviewed by ARTnews shows that the seller was the estate of the Florida philanthropist and museum benefactor Diane Belfer, however. The collector, who died at 94 in January, held onto several of the works for decades.

From Belfer’s holdings, two paintings by Jean Dubuffet, both depicting human limbs appearing in abstracted forms, sold for a collective $8.1 million. A bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s New York contemporary specialist Jackie Wachter won a 1964 canvas of two figures by Picasso, titled Nu allongé et buste d’homme, which sold for $4.2 million, hammering below its estimate of $4.5 million and likely going to the irrevocable bidder.

Painting of white figure against a brown background Leonora Carrington, The Garden of Paracelsus, 1957. Sotheby’s

From the same grouping, Milton Avery’s 1945 canvas The Letter, which depicts an interior scene featuring a woman reclining on a bed, sold for $6 million, three times the low estimate of $2 million. In the process, a new auction record for the artist was set. The result surpassed the artist’s previous auction milestone of $5.6 million, set at Sotheby’s in 2014 by the sale of his 1950 painting March and Sally Outdoors, and it comes ahead of an Avery retrospective due to open at London’s Royal Academy of Arts in July.

While brand-name artists like Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso anchored the modern art sale, the spotlight is shifting to artists who have been historically undervalued and rising at auction. This was especially apparent at the Sotheby’s sale on Monday, which included a painting by Surrealist Leonora Carrington, whose market has ben ascending alongside renewed institutional attention to her legacy. (Her writings and art provided the inspiration for the title of this year’s Venice Biennale, which also includes her work.)

Carrington’s 1957 painting The Garden of Paracelsus, an eerie scene riddled with ghostly figures, some headless and others with animal features, sold for $3.3 million. That sum is more than double its $1.5 million estimate. The result surpassed Carrington’s previous auction record of $2.4 million, set at Sotheby’s New York in 2014.