NYTIMES May 6th.
Picassos Sell at Christie’s Auction, After Faltering at Sotheby’s
By CAROL VOGEL
Published: May 6, 2009
Two Picassos painted late in the artist’s career and a Giacometti bronze brought solid prices at Christie’s on Wednesday night in what was a surprising reversal of tastes and trends.
Picasso’s “Musketeer With a Pipe” sold for $14.6 million. The seller was a victim of the Bernard L. Madoff swindle.
Where Sotheby’s had failed to sell its top Picasso and Giacometti at its Impressionist and modern art auction on Tuesday night, just 24 hours later Christie’s received bids from around the world.
A day can make all the difference in the life of auctions. Buyers appeared afraid to shop on Tuesday night, unsure of whether there was a market. But by Wednesday evening, fears of conspicuous consumption had apparently evaporated, with multiple bidders for most of the works. And Christie’s experts had the benefit of adjusting their pricing in the wake of Sotheby’s results.
“I was surprised to see people spending money,” said Mark Fisch, a Manhattan real estate developer and collector who was sitting in the second row at Christie’s. In this economy, he added, he thought bidding would have been more tentative.
The evening brought $102.7 million, in the middle of Christie’s estimate of $87.6 million to $125.2 million, with 10 of the 48 works failing to sell. By comparison, Sotheby’s total on Tuesday night was $61.3 million.
Riding the current craze for late Picassos, Christie’s had put a 1968 painting by him on the cover of its auction catalog. The work, “Musketeer With a Pipe,” was being sold by Jerome Fisher, a founder of the footwear company Nine West and a victim of the Bernard L. Madoff swindle. The brightly colored canvas was expected to fetch $12 million to $18 million. Four bidders sought the painting, which went to Nemo Vedovi, a Brussels dealer, for $14.6 million.
On Tuesday night, Sotheby’s tried to sell its star Picasso — a 1938 portrait of the artist’s daughter Maya — that was also being sold by a Madoff victim, William Achenbaum, who runs the Gansevoort Hotel Group. It was a more expensive work, estimated at $16 million to $24 million, and it went unsold.
On Wednesday, the artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel was also selling a late Picasso, “Woman Wearing a Hat” (1971). It was expected to bring $8 million to $12 million, but David Nahmad, a New York dealer, snapped it up for what seemed like a bargain — $7.7 million.
(Final prices include the commission to Christie’s: 25 percent of the first $50,000, 20 percent of the next $50,000 to $1 million, and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)
In recent seasons, sculpture has been a sure bet. But in these precarious times nothing is certain: Sotheby’s failed to sell its pricey Giacometti sculpture of a cat. At Christie’s on Wednesday, another Giacometti, “Bust of Diego (Stele III),” was offered. The work, conceived between 1957 and 1958 and cast in 1958, portrays the head of the artist’s brother perched on a tall plinth. It was expected to fetch $4.5 million to $6.5 million, but ended up selling to a telephone bidder who fought off three contenders and paid $7.6 million.
Sotheby’s sold a group of paintings by Tamara de Lempicka on Tuesday night with varying results. Christie’s had two on Wednesday night as well, including “Portrait of Madame M.,” a classic Art Deco canvas from 1932 that depicts the wife of a lawyer. It sold to a telephone bidder for $5.4 million, or $6.1 million including Christie’s fees. The final price, although just around its low estimate, was a record for the artist.
Pretty Impressionist paintings that came with pristine provenances and reasonable prices were enthusiastically sought all week. On Wednesday night, Christie’s had Pissarro’s “Picking Apples,” an 1881 canvas depicting four peasant women in a half-shaded orchard, which was being sold by the family of Evelyn Annenberg Jaffe Hall, a New York arts patron who died four years ago. Six bidders went for the painting, and it finally sold to a telephone bidder for $3.3 million, well above its $1.8 million high estimate.
Although Christie’s declined to name names, officials there said 42 percent of the buyers were from the United States and 44.7 percent were European, a group that includes Russians.
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