The curtain was raised on 20th/21st Century Week, a series of auctions at Christie’s London, with the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, which totalled £113,863,000 / $158,952,748, and was 92 per cent sold by value, and 81 per cent by lot. Twenty-eight lots sold for more than £1 million, with the top lot of the auction being Pablo Picasso’s Mousquetaire et nu assis, painted in Mougins on 11 April 1967, which realised £13,733,750 / $19,172,315.
Having variously imagined himself in his art as the melancholic harlequin, monstrous minotaur and courageous torero, it was the character of the adventurous and virile musketeer that Picasso adopted in his final decade. Mousquetaire et nu assis is among the first musketeers that appeared in his work, and depicts the artist alongside the voluptuous figure of Jacqueline, his last great love, muse and wife.
The second highest price of the night was achieved with Edgar Degas’ Dans les coulisses, thought to have been executed between 1882 and 1885. Perhaps no other artist is as closely associated with the performance arts as Degas, and this painting transports the viewer to the world of the Paris Opéra, which opened in 1875. Degas was a frequent visitor, and the Opéra became one of his favoured subjects.
Described by Christie’s Global President Jussi Pylkkänen as ‘one of the most noble and beautiful works by Degas that I’ve seen on the market in the past 30 years’, Dans les coulisses sold for £8,993,750 / $12,555,275.
Other notable results in the sale included Claude Monet’s Vétheuil and Prairie à Giverny, which both sold for £7,546,250 / $10,534,565, Picasso’s Femme se coiffant (£6,758,750 / $9,435,215) and Wassily Kandinsky’s Studie für Landschaft (Dünaberg), painted in 1910, which was acquired for £6,758,750 / $9,435,215. World auction records were set for works by Georges Vantongerloo and Antoine Pevsner.
Works from prestigious private collections performed well, ranging from the structured still lifes of Giorgio Morandi in The Eye of the Architect (Lots 4, 5 and 6), all of which exceeded their high estimates, to Francis Picabia’s playful collage, Sans titre (Pot de fleurs) (£3,008,750 / $4,200,215 — more than double its high estimate) in Abstraction Beyond Borders, a collection tracing the development of abstraction across Europe in the 20th century.
Across both the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale and the Art of the Surreal Evening Sale, which followed immediately afterwards, the selection from The Eye of the Architect realised £18,408,500 / $25,698,266, while the 10 works in the Abstraction Beyond Borders collection totalled £11,770,000 / $16,430,930.
The top lot in the Art of the Surreal Evening Sale was Figure by Picasso (1930), which realised £8,333,750 / $11,633,915, the third highest price of the night. René Magritte’s Le groupe silencieux (‘The Silent Group’), painted in 1926 and an important example of the artist’s early Surrealist style, sold for £7,208,750 / $10,063,415. The auction, which witnessed a world auction record for a work by Sir Roland Penrose, totalled £35,729,750 / $49,878,731, and was 74 per cent sold by lot and 85 per cent by value.
Following a day later, the Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale realised £20,636,938 / $28,726,617, the highest ever figure for this sale in London. The top lot was Chaïm Soutine’s Portrait de Charlot, which realised £896,750 / $1,248,276. The Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper Sale then totalled £9,168,000 / $12,761,856, the third highest total for a works on paper sale, with Claude Monet’s Coucher de soleil achieving the top price of the auction (£1,568,750 / $2,183,700 — the record for a work on paper by the artist).