Christie's Super-Sized Sale Brings In $231.4 MillionBy KELLY CROW
Starve a fever, feed a cold. Christie's International applied this homespun remedy to the thawing art market on Wednesday by packing 84 artworks into its major sale of Impressionist and modern art in New York, up from a typical 50.
The move paid off: Christies's found buyers for a majority of the offerings, bringing in $231.4 million and falling within its $199 million to $287 million pre-sale expectations. Rival Sotheby's sold $227 million worth of art at a smaller sale on Tuesday.
The largest piece in Christie's sale also became its biggest hit: Henri Matisse's 6-foot-tall bronze woman with a long ponytail from 1930, "Back IV," sold to New York dealer Larry Gagosian for $48.8 million. The work set a new record the artist at auction and exceeded its $35 million high estimate. Mr. Gagosian won the work following a 10-minute, three-way bidding war between fellow dealer Bob Mnuchin and a telephone bidder.
Discretionary sellers played a key role in Christie's super-sized, two-hour sale. A quartet of works offered up by financier Henry Kravis were estimated to sell for at least $38 million but ultimately fetched $50 million combined. The highlight of Mr. Kravis's group was Juan Gris's still life from 1913, "Violin and Guitar," which sold for a record $28.6 million to an anonymous European collector bidding over the telephone. Another work in the group, Joan Miro's 1938 "Air," sold to London dealer Alan Hobart for $10.3 million.
Yet Christie's had to wrangle a bit to sell a suite of five works by Postimpressionist Georges Seurat that were put up for sale by an anonymous French collector. The best of the Seurat drawings was a $3.3 million, black-crayon depiction of a woman in a creamy, fitted jacket and black ruffled skirt, "The Promenade."
New York dealer John Driscoll paid $2 million for another Seurat, a six-inch study the artist did in preparation for his pointillist masterpiece, "A Sunday on La Grand Jatte," which now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Mr. Driscoll said he was "surprised" he won after only placing a single bid, considering the study's historic link: "Works with sex appeal seem to be selling better right now."
Collectors also competed harder for works drawn directly from major estates. Ten artworks that belonged to the collection of the late Max Palevsky, a computer-technology titan, saw brisk bidding and sold for a combined $23.5 million. Among the highlights was Giorgio Morandi's chalky group of vases from 1953, "Still Life," that sold for $1.9 million, over its $1 million high estimate.
Another group of works that fared well came from the estate of Walter Shorenstein, once known as San Francicso's largest landlord. The art collection Mr. Shorenstein amassed with his late wife, Phyllis, included Gustave Caillebotte's cheery river view from 1882, "The Seine at Argenteuil." The work sold to an anonymous American dealer bidding over the telephone for $5.1 million, just over its low estimate with fees.
(Final sales, unlike estimates, include the auction house's additional fee for buyers, which is 25% on the first $50,000, 20% up to $1 million and 12% above $1 million. Final prices include this fee.)
In an attempt to draw in a broader base of new bidders from Asia, Christie's padded its sale with plenty of works featuring easily accessible subject matter like images of a mother and child. But collectors didn't always take the bait. Pablo Picasso's 1921 view of a serene woman cradling a chubby infant, "Maternity," was supposed to sell for at least $7 million but stalled at $5.8 million and went unsold. A pair of familial works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir also failed to sell.
Overall, 17 of the sale's 84 works went unsold. The hefty price for the Matisse bronze helped offset some of these losses, though, and the sale achieved 88% of its potential value. Americans won 45% of the works; Europeans won 31% and Asians won 6%.
Next week, Christie's and its rivals Sotheby's and the smaller Phillips de Pury & Co. will hold a major round of post-war and contemporary art.
Write to Kelly Crow at email@example.com