Nature morte de pêches et poires, an exquisite still life painted by Paul Cézanne between 1885 and 1887, produced the highest price in the first Christie’s evening sale of 2019, selling for £21,203,750 (including buyer’s premium).
Acquired directly from the artist by the dealer Ambroise Vollard, who mounted Cézanne’s first solo exhibition in 1895, the painting was last seen at auction almost 40 years ago and is arguably the artist’s most significant still-life to come to market in 20 years.
The work was one of the highlights in the Hidden Treasures collection, which was offered in a standalone sale, and contributed to a total of £190,704,625 — the second highest for such an auction series in London.
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The Hidden Treasures collection included long unseen pictures by other great artists of the period. Among them was Renoir’s Sentier dans le bois, which was painted circa 1874-1877 — the height of the Impressionist moment — in the Forest of Fontainebleau. The sous-bois painting sparked a bidding battle that took it past its high estimate to £12,691,250.
The Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale followed, and opened with a fierce bidding battle for Edgar Degas’ Danseuses dans une salle d’exercice (Trois Danseuses) from 1873. This small, jewel-like painting, in which a trio of ballet dancers rehearse their steps, illuminated by light flooding through the windows behind them, eventually sold for £4,178,750 against a low estimate of £800,000.
Sold to benefit a charitable foundation, a group of six rare and important paintings from a private collection titled An Adventurous Spirit produced new world auction records for Paul Signac, whose Le Port au soleil couchant, Opus 236 (Saint-Tropez), painted in 1892, sold for £19,501,250, eclipsing a record that had stood since 2007; and Gustave Caillebotte, whose Chemin montant realised £16,663,750, passing the previous mark set in 2011.
Other highlights from the sale, which was 95 per cent sold by value, included Claude Monet’s Au bord du fjord de Christiania, painted in Norway in 1895 (bought for £5,313,750), and Pablo Picasso’s Nature morte au crâne de taureau, which realised £4,746,250.
The third auction of the evening was The Art of the Surreal sale. Seven works by René Magritte were offered, including Le lieu commun, the most important painting of a bowler-hatted man by the artist to come to market since 1998.
The work, which was painted in 1964, offers a unique vision of this wandering icon. It shows him both full-face and hidden behind a column in an ambiguous landscape; simultaneously appearing and disappearing. Never previously offered at auction, Le lieu commun sold for £18,366,250.
Christie’s annual sale of Surrealist art also witnessed strong performances for Antoni Tàpies’ 1949 work Los ojos del follaje (The Eyes of Foliage), which soared past its high estimate before selling for £275,000; and Victor Braunier’s Braises (1946), which did likewise before being bought for £175,000. All seven works by Magritte were sold on the night in an auction that was 94 per cent sold by lot and 99 per cent by value.
The Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale realised a total of £16,723,000, with new world auction records set for André Brasilier and Georges (Jirí) Kars, while the Works on Paper Sale totalled £7,098,875. The online-only sale dedicated to Picasso Ceramics. realised £1,458,250.