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Brancusi sells for a record $57.3 million as New York sales get off to ‘fantastic start’

Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale totals $289.1 million — the most successful auction for the category since 2010, and a 104 per cent increase on May 2016

20th Century Week opened in New York with the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, which witnessed an extraordinary nine-minute bidding battle for lot 32, Constantin Brancusi’s La muse endormie, a bronze cast in 1913 and the first in the artist’s series of iconic ovoid sculptures.

This extraordinary object, which was acquired by the distinguished French collector Jacques Ulmann in the 1950s and has remained in his family ever since, realised $57,367,500 (including buyer’s premium) — the top price of the night — after a dramatic contest between five bidders.

Video: Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise, robe bleue realised $45,047,500

The sale’s total of $289.1 million (£223.9 million / €264.1 million) represented a 104 per cent increase on the corresponding sale in 2016 and was Christie’s best Impressionist and Modern Art result since 2010. 

Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti described it as a ‘fantastic start to the season’, and paid tribute to the specialists who put together an auction that was 96 per cent sold by value and attracted registered bidders from 35 countries around the world, with 23 per cent of the lots being bought by bidders in Asia. 

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), La muse endormie. Original marble version carved in 1909-1910; this bronze version cast by 1913. Signed ‘Brancusi’ (on the back of the neck). Patinated bronze with gold leaf. Length 10½ in (26.7 cm). Sold for $57,367,500 in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), La muse endormie. Original marble version carved in 1909-1910; this bronze version cast by 1913. Signed ‘Brancusi’ (on the back of the neck). Patinated bronze with gold leaf. Length: 10½ in (26.7 cm). Sold for $57,367,500 in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2017 at Christie’s in New York

There were numerous highlights on a night of deep and competitive bidding, including Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise, robe bleue, painted on 25 October 1939 — the artist’s 58th birthday. The searing portrait of Dora Maar, Picasso’s lover and muse, sold for $45,047,500, which represents a 55 per cent appreciation in the price of the painting in just six years.

Femme assise dans un fauteuil, also by Picasso, and painted between 1917 and 1920, realised $30,487,500, followed by Marc Chagall’s Les trois cierges (1939), which sold for $14,583,500. They were among the five works generously donated to Cleveland Clinic by Mrs. Sydell Miller, which realised $55,963,500 on the night, with further works to come in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale  on Wednesday.


Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Femme assise, robe bleue, Painted on 25 October 1939. Oil on canvas, 28¾ x 23⅝ in (73 x 60 cm). Sold for $45,047,500 in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2017, at Christie’s in New York. © Succession PicassoDACS, London 2017

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Femme assise, robe bleue, Painted on 25 October 1939. Oil on canvas, 28¾ x 23⅝ in (73 x 60 cm). Sold for $45,047,500 in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2017, at Christie’s in New York. © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2017

Claude Monet’s La route de Vétheuil, effet de neige, painted in 1879 and formerly owned by the pioneering New Orleans collector Hunt Henderson, realised $11,447,500. The delicate view of Vétheuil under heavy snow was one of five works by the artist to appear in the 1913 Armory Show, an exhibition that introduced American audiences to European modernism. The five works offered from the Henderson collection realised more than $30.5 million, with more to come in subsequent sales. Fernand Léger’s Nature morte aux éléments mécaniques also sold for $11,447,500.

Claude Monet (1840-1926), La route de Vétheuil, effet de neige, 1879. Oil on canvas. 24⅛ x 32⅛ in (61.1 x 81.1 cm). Sold for $11,447,500 in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Claude Monet (1840-1926), La route de Vétheuil, effet de neige, 1879Oil on canvas. 24⅛ x 32⅛ in (61.1 x 81.1 cm). Sold for $11,447,500 in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2017 at Christie’s in New York

‘Where we saw fabulous results were with works coming fresh to market,’ said Jessica Fertig, Head of Sale. ‘Eighty-four per cent of the lots in the sale had not been on the market for 20-plus years. That is what all of our clients are looking for.’

In total, the 20th Century Week  sales of Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art came to a combined $842,535,375 (£652,219,944 / €761,484,047). This total eclipses the week’s pre-sale estimate of $670 million, and represents a $220 million increase over Christie’s November 2016 New York series. The week achieved the highest total for an Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale  at Christie’s since May 2010, and the strongest sell-through rates for a Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale  in a decade.

With over 800 individual works sold across the week, Christie’s achieved consistently strong results across price levels, from $500 works on paper and ceramics to $50 million masterpieces.  At its high-value Evening Sales, the overwhelming majority of works offered sold within or above estimate, underscoring the firm’s commitment to delivering superior results for both individual sellers and estate collections.