Picasso and Magritte lead the 20th/21st Century Art London evening sales
Christie’s first 20th/21st evening sale series of 2023 achieved a total of £167,814,400 / $202,216,352 / €190,301,530 and set new auction records for seven artists, including Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Tyler Hobbs, Wolfgang Paalen and Caroline Walker
On 28 February in London, the first 20th/21st Century Art auction series of the year featured important works by major Impressionist, Modern, and Post-War and Contemporary names, as well as pioneering female artists of the Surrealist movement, including Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning and Remedios Varo.
The 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale realised £128,952,500 / $155,387,763 / €146,232,135, followed immediately by the 22nd edition of The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale, which totalled £38,861,900 / $46,828,590 / €44,069,395. Together they saw sell-through rates of 89 per cent by lot and 91 per cent by value, taking the evening’s combined total to £167,814,400 / $202,216,352 / €190,301,530. Seven artists set auction records across both sales, including Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Oscar Domínguez, Tyler Hobbs and Caroline Walker.
‘The diverse group of works, the majority never seen at auction before, exemplified the purpose of Christie’s signature 20th/21st category: to bring contemporary voices into dialogue with those of earlier generations,’ said Giovanna Bertazzoni, vice-chairman, 20th/21st Century Art Department.
Jussi Pylkkänen and Veronica Scarpati took bids from clients globally — in the saleroom, through phone banks and online via Christie’s LIVE — with 59 per cent from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, 28 per cent across the Americas and 13 per cent in Asia.
20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale
The top price of the night was achieved by Pablo Picasso’s Femme dans un rocking-chair (Jacqueline), which depicts his second wife and muse Jacqueline Roque. Painted in 1956, it belongs to what the British art historian John Richardson described as ‘l’époque Jacqueline’. ‘It is her image,’ he wrote, ‘that permeates Picasso’s work from 1954 until his death, twice as long as any of her predecessors.’ Its sale achieved £16,892,000 just weeks before the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death, which Christie’s will commemorate throughout 2023.
The second highest-achieving lot of the sale was Paul Cezanne’s L’Aqueduc du canal de Verdon au nord d’Aix, which was painted in 1882-83 — a period in the artist’s career when he began to move away from the spontaneous, broken touch of the Impressionist technique to embrace a more structured style of painting. Having been held in the same family collection for more than 100 years, it sold for £7,159,500.
Also offered for sale for the first time in over a century was a deeply personal portrayal of Gordina de Groot by Vincent van Gogh. Painted in the small village of Nuenen in 1885, it cruised past its high estimate before selling for £4,842,000 to a bidder in the room.
Moments later, Jeune fille endormie (La dormeuse) (1880) by Auguste Renoir more than doubled its low estimate to fetch £4,962,000. There was also competitive bidding for Lucian Freud’s Garden from the Window (2002), which sold for £4,602,000 — the same figure as that achieved for his early canvas Scillonian Beachscape (1945-46). David Hockney’s 1970 acrylic on canvas Chair with a Horse Drawn by Picasso sold for £4,362,000, more than doubling its high estimate.
Liu Ye’s 2018 painting The Goddess, depicting the Chinese silent film star Ruan Lingyu, also generated keen interest among collectors in the room and on the phone. Painted in 2018 and exhibited in the artist’s major exhibition at the Prada Rong Zhai in Shanghai, it more than tripled the low estimate to realise £3,102,000.
Other notable results included Henry Moore’s Seated Woman: Thin Neck (1961) which sold for more than three times the low estimate at £1,962,000; Josef Albers’s 1961 Study for Homage to the Square ‘Greek Tragedy’, which reached more than double its high estimate at £1,002,000; and Scott Kahn’s Winter on Wig Hill from 1991, which more than tripled its low estimate to find £978,000.
Also selling above estimate were Shara Hughes’s 2017 canvas Rough Terrain, which achieved £630,000, and Tyler Hobbs’s Fidenza #724, one of a series of 999 computer-generated images minted as individual NFTs. After a flurry of international bids, it achieved an auction record for the artist of £365,400.
The sale also set a cluster of new auction records for young female painters. Making its auction debut, Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s two-metre-high canvas Love me nots (2021) opened the sale and sparked vigorous international bidding before selling for £730,800. Cristina Banban’s La Fatiga Que Me Das (You Exhaust Me) (2019) also set a new artist record at £163,000, as did Caroline Walker’s 2013 The Puppeteer, which saw multiple telephone bidders pursue it to £693,000, more than triple the high estimate.
The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale
Leading the sale was René Magritte’s lyrical gouache Le retour (circa 1950), which features a dreamlike variation on one of the artist’s most poetic motifs, l’oiseau de ciel, or ‘sky-bird’. Last seen publicly when auctioned by Christie’s in 2004, the gouache sold for £6,129,000 and set an artist record for the medium. Also offered were Magritte’s Souvenir de voyage (1958), which fetched £5,556,500; Le masque de la foudre (1965-66), achieving £4,482,000; and an untitled collage from 1927, which more than doubled its high estimate, realising £882,000.
Souvenir de voyage was the top lot of a group of works from an important San Francisco Bay Area collection (which realised a total of £20,787,800 / $25,044,914 / €23,568,980), built over more than two decades and inspired by a formative trip to Mexico — ‘the Surrealist place, par excellence’, according to André Breton.
Other collection highlights included Oscar Domínguez’s Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle (1934-35), which sailed past its high estimate to realise a record £4,602,000; Yves Tanguy’s Le lourd palais from 1930, which more than doubled its low estimate at £819,000; and Wolfgang Paalen’s 1938 Taches solaires, setting another artist record of £756,000. Also offered by Paalen was Pays interdit (1936-37), selling to a telephone bidder for £504,000.
The collection also included important works by leading women artists of the Surrealist movement, among them Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington, who both sought refuge in Mexico in the early 1940s following the outbreak of war in Europe.
Varo’s Retrato del Doctor Ignacio Chávez (1957) achieved £3,882,000, while Carrington’s 1968 Lepidoptera soared above the high estimate before realising £579,600.
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The sale also saw strong results for Dorothea Tanning: The Moonstone Effect (formerly Opale, Opale, Opale) and Visite jaune (Visite éclair) (1960) realised £378,000 and £352,800 respectively. Elsewhere, Cycloptomania, a 1940 canvas by Gordon Onslow Ford, achieved £163,800, setting a new record for the artist at auction. The evening closed on a high as Joan Miró’s 1965& Personnage, oiseaux, étoiles. sold for £352,800.
Christie’s 20th/21st spring season in London achieved a total of £201,076,762 / $242,127,221 / €227,818,661, with combined sell-through rates of 91% by value and 87% by lot.
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