Modigliani Makes $170.4 Million at Christies

I just returned home (Alexandria, VA) from the AAA annual appraisal conference in NYC.  I had a great time, and the conference was excellent.

AAA Ex Dir Linda Selvin, Pres Deborah Spanierman and past Pres Betty Krulik did a fantastic job planning and hosting the annual event.  My favorite presentation, and one worth the price of admissions alone was on the art market by fine art economist Clare McAndrew and the following panel discussion with Michael Plummer of Artvest, Benjamin Mandel, J P Morgan economist, Stephen Brodie, Partner at Herrick Feinstein with Clare McAndrew moderating.  As many are aware, the topic of fine art and economics and finance is on of my favorites, the the hour and a half presentation and panel was highly informative and interesting.

We also had a meeting of Circle of Trust members which includes ISA, AAA and ASA. More on that discussion later in the week.

I will post more on the Christie's sale later in the week, but according to the NY Times, it offered 34 lots and totaled $491.3 million including buyers premium. The star of the sale was the Amedeo Modigliani which sold for $170.4 million including buyers premiums. The Roy Lichtenstein "Nurse" brought $95.3 million which had an $80 million high estimate.

The NY Times reports on the sale
In an overheated art market where anything seems possible, a painting of an outstretched nude woman by the early 20th-century artist Amedeo Modigliani sold on Monday night for $170.4 million with fees, in a packed sales room at Christie’s. It was the second highest price paid for an artwork at auction.

The painting became the 10th work of art to sell for nine figures under the hammer. It took nine minutes to sell, with the winning bid coming from a Chinese buyer on the phone. Four others vied by phone against a bidder in the room.

The seller of the Modigliani, Laura Mattioli Rossi, the daughter of the Italian collector Gianni Mattioli, was guaranteed at least a $100 million minimum price. Just before the sale, Christie’s announced that a third party had stepped forward to share the risk — as well as any proceeds above the guaranteed price.

An arresting pop art work by Roy Lichtenstein, “Nurse,” from 1964, also defied expectations, selling for slightly over $95.3 million, well above its $80 million high estimate — despite the lack of a “speech” or “thought bubble” that typically drives up the price of Lichtenstein works. “Nurse” reached a new price level for Lichtenstein at auction. Christie’s also shared that guarantee with a third party.

Monday night’s sale of 34 lots brought slightly more than $491.3 million .

It was Modigliani’s 1917-18 canvas, “Nu Couché,” that was the star lot around which Christie’s built its themed “Artist’s Muse” auction, designed to attract international buyers of the world’s most expensive art. With some collectors concerned about a bubble in the market for so-called “cutting edge” contemporary art, investment-conscious buyers have been looking for blue-chip names from earlier periods. Modigliani nudes are regarded as among the ultimate trophy paintings of the 20th century.

The price was a high for Modigliani at auction, beating the $70.7 million paid in New York last November for his 1911-12 sculpture “Tête.” His “Portrait de Paulette Jourdain,” from around 1919, sold for $42.8 million at Sotheby’s sale of the A. Alfred Taubman estate last week, well over its estimate of $25 million.

Monday’s sale assuaged concerns that the painting would be too risqué for some collectors.

“This painting leaps off the page as the most vibrant, sexual, lyrical of the catalog raisonee,” said Ana Maria Celis, a Christie’s specialist in Post-War & Contemporary Art.

In its preview exhibition, Christie’s deliberately positioned the Modigliani near Lucian Freud’s painting of his nude daughter Bella, “Naked Portrait on a Red Sofa.”

Ms. Celis noted that the Freud was less erotic than the Modigliani, “almost contemplative” by comparison.

The sale propelled Modigliani into the $100 Million-at-Auction Club whose members include Picasso (three times), Bacon, Giacometti (three times), Warhol and Munch. It also represented a far cry from the prices being asked for the Italian artist’s work in his own brief and unsuccessful lifetime (he died of tuberculosis in 1920 at age 35).

In the winter of 1918-19, a desperate Modigliani offered to sell the entire contents of his Paris studio — which in all likelihood included Christie’s “Nu Couché” — to the British writers Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, for 100 pounds or $300 (roughly $4,700 today). According John Pearson’s 1978 book, “Facades: Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell Sitwell,” the aristocratic brothers couldn’t raise the cash.

Lichtenstein’s “Nurse” generated a good deal of early excitement — with many people posing for pictures in front of it at Sunday’s champagne and canapé preview brunch — in part because of its sharp color and the quality of the artist’s signature dots, which were individually stenciled by hand.

Christie’s “Artist’s Muse” sale was a more conventional follow-up to the company’s unorthodox “Looking Forward to the Past” auction in May, with offerings handpicked by the young Christie’s specialist Loic Gouzer. That sale brought $705.9 million from 35 lots, including $179.4 million for Picasso’s 1955 painting, “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’).”

Brett Gorvy, Christie’s worldwide chairman of postwar and contemporary art, said that Monday’s “Muse” sale had attracted both “the hard-core collector base and new buyers looking for a masterpiece.”

“They want to know they’re buying the best of the best,” he said. “The mood is about confidence. There’s more than enough liquidity in the market.”

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Nurse” (1964). Credit Estate of Roy Lichtenstein, via Christie’s
Both auctions have relied heavily on Christie’s guaranteeing minimum prices to coax top quality works from owners, an increasingly common but risky practice that can leave auction houses with expensive unsold works.

On Monday, 18 lots in the catalog were guaranteed, as were about half the number of lots in the “Looking Forward” sale in May.

“These sales have a logic to them, and they’ve been a success,” David Nisinson, a New York-based collector and adviser, said. “The market for modern and contemporary has essentially become the entire art market. If they continue to attract very major property we may see more sales with this approach.”

Other observers were more skeptical, suggesting that the formula was wearing a little thin the second time around. The “Muse” theme was elastic enough for Christie’s to include the 1981 Andy Warhol silk-screen painting, “Gun,” estimated at $8 million to $12 million, which was also guaranteed by Christie’s.

“A Warhol ‘Gun’ painting? How was that his muse?” the New York dealer Henry Zimet said. “But if they can get away with it, good luck to them.”

Here are the nine other works that have sold for more than $100 million at auction, not adjusted for inflation, according to Christie’s.

$179.4 million — Pablo Picasso, “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” (1955), oil on canvas, 2015, Christie’s New York

$142.4 million — Francis Bacon, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud (in 3 parts)” (1969), oil on canvas, 2013, Christie’s New York

$141.3 million — Alberto Giacometti, “L’homme au doigt” (1947), bronze with patina and hand-painted, 2015, Christie’s New York

$120 million — Edvard Munch, “The Scream” (1895), pastel on board, 2012, Sotheby’s New York

$106.5 million — Pablo Picasso, “Nude Green Leaves and Bust” (1932), oil on canvas, 2010, Christie’s New York

$105.4 million — Andy Warhol, “Silver Car Crash,” 2013, Sotheby’s New York

$104.2 million — Pablo Picasso, “Garçon à la pipe” (1905), oil on canvas, 2004, Sotheby’s New York

$103.9 million — Alberto Giacometti, “L’homme qui marche” (1960), bronze, 2010, Sotheby’s London

$100.9 million — Alberto Giacometti, “Chariot” (1950), painted bronze, 2014, Sotheby’s New York
Source: The NY Times

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