Christie's NY Impressionist and Modern Sale

 Monday evening Christie's held its Impressionist and modern sale with 63 lots offered, a 86% buy through rate and a total of $399 million. The sale was off compared to last year which nearly totaled $416 million for only 37 lots.

The sale not considered strong or overly exciting, with one dealer stating "Tastes have changed. Impressionist and modern works that lack appeal to a contemporary sensibility can struggle to hold their value."

The NY Times reports on the sale
A painting by Paul Cézanne owned by the billionaire magazine publisher S. I. Newhouse Jr. sold for $59.3 million on Monday night at a Christie’s sale of Impressionist and modern art, kick-starting a week of marquee auctions in New York that is expected to raise at least $1.6 billion.

The Cézanne was one of 11 trophy artworks being offered over two evenings at Christie’s by the family of Mr. Newhouse, who died in 2017. It is the most valuable of several distinguished American estate collections coming to market this week, and the Newhouse provenance gave a lift to the sale’s top lots: Five Newhouse entries brought a total of $101 million. But a more significant test of its appeal — and of the market as a whole — will come when his more fashionable contemporary works, such as Jeff Koons’s iconic “Rabbit,” are sold on Wednesday.

Cezanne’s chromatic still life, “Bouilloire et Fruits (Pitcher and Fruit),” a mature work painted in Aix-en-Provence in 1888-1890, sold to one of three telephone bidders well above its estimate of $40 million, but competition was measured, as it so often is now at “Imps and mods” auctions. The work had been acquired by Mr. Newhouse at auction in 1999 for $29.5 million, according to the Artnet database of salesroom results.

“It was a great Cézanne and it deserved its price,” Richard Nagy, a dealer based in London, said. “But it’s not exactly current taste.”

Mr. Newhouse began to buy Impressionist and modern pieces relatively late in his collecting career, having spent decades buying (and selling) masterworks by artists of his own era. Six of those will be offered on Wednesday evening.

The collector acquired Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 painting, “Arbres dans le Jardin de L’asile (Trees in the Garden of the Asylum),” from Gagosian Gallery of New York in 2004. The painting, one of a celebrated group of expressive works that van Gogh produced at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence after the breakdown he suffered at Arles in 1888, sold to another telephone bidder for $40 million against a low estimate of $25 million.

The other potential trophy of the evening was the Amedeo Modigliani limestone sculpture “Tête,” dating from about 1911-12. With crossover appeal to both collectors of modern and contemporary art, Modigliani’s sculptures have been on a roll at auction in recent years, achieving a price of $70.7 million in 2014.

But this one had been repaired and was “less ascetic and more decorative” than those other examples, according to Giovanna Bertazzoni, Christie’s co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art, who is based in London. As a result, it sold to one bidder for $34.3 million.

The visually problematic 1939 painting “Thérèse sur une Banquette,” by the French artist Balthus, showed a provocatively posed teenage girl in a short skirt. From the collection of Dorothy and Richard Sherwood, based in California, the image was out of step with today’s cultural times. Nonetheless, it sold slightly over estimate for $19 million, a new auction high for the artist.

“Solid works, solid sales, but no fireworks,” said Thomas Danziger, a New York lawyer who represents clients who buy and sell at the top end of the market.

Mr. Danziger thought bidding would not have been significantly affected by Monday’s 2.4 percent decline on the benchmark S&P 500 index, the steepest fall in American stocks for months. “People would have decided what they were going to do long before the auction,” he said. “If you’re going to spend $10 million, you’re not going to worry about what happened in the previous three hours.”

Tastes have changed. Impressionist and modern works that lack appeal to a contemporary sensibility can struggle to hold their value. Édouard Vuillard’s fine 1895 post-Impressionist canvas “La Table de Toilette (The Dressing Table),” the sister painting of similar decorative panels by the artist in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the Museum of Modern Art, sold at auction for $7.7 million in 1989, at the height of the Impressionist art boom. Thirty years later, on Monday at Christie’s, it sold for $8 million.

Overall, Monday’s sale raised $399 million from 63 lots, of which 14 percent were unsold.

This was slightly below the $415.9 million that the equivalent sale at Christie’s achieved last year from just 37 pieces. The market for Impressionist and modern art isn’t the place to make a quick buck.
Source: The NY Times 

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