Published: November 13, 2001
NEW YORK CITY – Christie’s evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art at Rockefeller Center totaled $108,900,775 November 6. The Collection of Rene Gaffe, a group of 25 museum-quality masterpieces of Modern and Surrealist art that was sold to benefit UNICEF, realized $73,325,775 and was 100 percent sold.
“The reason for its success was simple,” wrote Carol Vogel of The New York Times. “The art was of the highest quality, and the entire collection was being sold without a reserve, a secret minimum price generally agreed upon by the seller and the auction house. That meant that works went to the highest bidders, regardless of market values.”
Vogel went on to tag the results of offerings from various owners, which made up the rest of the auction, as “mediocre.”
The top lot of the Gaffe collection and the evening was Fernand Leger’s “Le moteur,” which fetched $16,726,000, a world auction record for the artist. Fifteen works achieved prices exceeding $1 million, and 38 of the 49 lots sold achieved prices above or within their presale estimates.
Paintings and sculpture from the collection accounted for seven of the evening’s top ten lots. Works by Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso were highly sought after. “Portrait de Mme K,” from the seminal years of Surrealism, fetched $12,656,000 the second highest price of the evening and a world auction record for the artist.
Two other important monumental canvases by Miro, “Paysage sur les bords du fleuve Amour” and “Danseuse espagnole,” fetched $11,006,000 and $8,916,000, respectively.
Picasso’s “Buste de femme a la chemise,” a superb example of Neo-classical portraiture, sold for $6,826,000; “Etude pour “Nu dans une foret,'” from the series that also produced the landmark “Les demoiselles d’Avignon,” realized $6,166,000; and the iconic bronze “Tete de femme (Fernande)” fetched $4,956,000, the highest price ever paid for a sculpture by Picasso.
The top lots from the various-owners’ property included two superb works by Henri Matisse. “Deux Negresses,” a circa 1930 cast of one of the artist’s most important sculptures, sold for $7,596,000, and his “Femme couchee” realized $5,286,000, well above its pre-sale high estimate. Also of note was Edvard Munch’s “Madonna,” which sold above estimate to achieve $2,866,000.
Meanwhile, Sotheby’s more modest November 7 evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, which brought $33,110,750, was highlighted by a fine Camille Pissarro Parisian view, “La Rue St. Lazare,” 1893, which brought $6,605,750, establishing a record for the artist at auction.
Estimated at $4/6 million, the energetic work, from a series of four that the artist completed between 1892 and 1893, was the subject of spirited competition from no less than six different bidders.
“We were pleased with the results of [the] sale, which reflected a market driven by quality,” David Norman, co-chairman of the firm’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department worldwide, said. “The world record price achieved for Pissarro was a strong market indicator, as was the price paid for Matisse’s ‘Anémones au miroir noir,’ $4.2 million, ten percent more than the price it brought in 1998. The majority of lots were bought by American private collectors.”
“While [the] sale showed selectivity, it also indicated that we are in a connoisseurs’ market,” commented Charles Moffett, also department co-chairman. “Collectors went after what they wanted, as we saw with the competition for works of remarkable quality such as Degas’ ‘Portrait de Giulia Bellelli (Mme Mauri),’ a study for his first great masterpiece, the painting of the Bellelli Family in the Musée D’Orsay, and Cézanne’s ‘Etude de Pomme,’ a jewel of a study depicting one of the most famous subjects in Modern art. We were especially heartened to see that current economic conditions and the events of September 11th did not have a profound impact on the sale.”
Alberto Giacometti’s “Femme de Venise V,” which had been in a private collection for more than a generation, sold for $2,875,750, and also by Giacometti was “Femme mince sans bras (Figure Debout XIII)” which sold for $665,750 against an estimate of $400/500,000. Auguste Rodin’s Le Baiser was another highlight of the evening bringing $2,425,750 against a pre-sale estimate of $1.4/1.8 million. Two telephone bidders fought for the sensuous work, which is one of Rodin’s best known and most highly regarded sculptures.
Two versions of Auguste Rodin’s “Le Penseur” were also sold. One version, cast before 1917 and measuring just over 14 inches, brought $445,750 against a pre-sale estimate of $300/400,00; and the other, cast circa 1930-35 and measuring over 28 inches, sold for $610,750. Additionally, Alexander Archipenko’s “Gondolier,” a fusion of Futurist and Cubist concepts, sold for $643,750.
Henri Matisse’s “Fenetre ouverte Etretat,” which sold for $2,315,750, had brought only $1.5 million at auction in 1996. The work has been described as being “among the most distinguished of the interiors which Matisse painted at Etretat.” This work, which is both an interior and a landscape, was executed during the artist’s first summer at the Normandy fishing village in 1920. Also by Matisse was “Le repose du modèle,” a technically and visually stunning work which sold for $555,750.
An additional highlight was Georges Braque’s “La Calanque de Figuerolles, la Ciotat,” which brought $2,755,750.
“Because Sotheby’s has been facing mounting legal fees and fines in connection with the criminal antitrust suit,” wrote Vogel in the November 8 edition of the Times, “…the company has been particularly short of cash and has therefore been giving sellers less financing.”
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