Published: May 21, 2002
NEW YORK CITY – Christie’s May 7 evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art at Rockefeller Center totaled $97,647,000. The top lot of the evening was Constantin Brancusi’s “Danaïde,” an extraordinary bronze portrait that fetched $18,159,500, a world auction record for the artist as well as for any sculpture at auction.
Seventeen works achieved prices of more than $1 million, and 31 of the 33 lots sold achieved prices above or within their presale estimates. The sale was 72 percent sold by lot and 88 percent by value. Successful buyers this evening were 58 percent American, 33 percent European and 9 percent Asian.
“The auction was an explosive start to our spring fine art auction season,” said Christopher Burge, honorary chairman of Christie’s Americas and the evening’s auctioneer. “The price achieved by the Brancusi can be attributed to a variety of factors, not least the original gold leaf the artist finished it with and its record of private ownership.”
Burge continued, “There was interest in everything in the sale, not just on the telephone but also in the room, illustrating the strength of the market. Twentieth Century material performed exceptionally well, and the quality of the works drew both new and established buyers who are returning to the market.”
Prices for sculpture were particularly strong. In addition to the record price achieved by Brancusi’s “Danaïde,” Alberto Giacometti’s “La forêt” fetched $13,209,500, the second highest price for the artist at auction and the second highest price of the evening, while his “Diego au chandail” realized $3,309,500. In addition, “Le tub,” an extraordinary Nineteenth Century bronze by Edgar Degas, sold for $1,989,500.
The top painting at tonight’s sale was René Magritte’s “L’empire des lumieres,” a pristine example from a celebrated series of oils and gouaches based on the contrast between light and darkness, which fetched $12,659,500, a new world record for the artist. The previous record of $7,152,500 was established by Christie’s in 1998, with “Les valeurs personelles” from the collection of Harry Torczyner.
Strong prices also were achieved by Impressionist paintings this evening. Two exquisite canvases by Gustave Caillebotte were among the top ten lots of the sale. “Un soldat,” a full-length portrait of a soldier that was on long-term loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1983 through 2001, realized $6,389,500, while his “Le hassin d’Argenteuil,” a scene of shimmering light falling on boats idling in gently rippling water, sold for $2,299,500. These were two of 11 works from a private European collection that totaled $20,479,500. A rare and early Picasso, “Les courses,” a scene of elegantly dressed women at a Paris racetrack from 1901, realized $4,629,500.
The evening’s surprise was the exceptional price of $2,429,500 achieved by Henri Matisse’s “Nu dans un fauteuil,” which soared over the presale estimate of $800,000/1.2 million.
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