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.
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.
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.
‘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.