Christie’s 20th Century season got off to a strong start on 15 May, as the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in New York achieved $415,852,500/ £307,355,876. The sale, which was 99 per cent sold by value and 89 per cent sold by lot, attracted registered bidders from 35 countries across five continents. Overall, 35 per cent of all lots sold above their high estimate; four lots sold for more than $20 million.
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Leading the sale was Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition, which achieved $85,812,500/ £63,423,873, a world record for the artist. Painted in 1916, it is considered one of the finest and most complex of the artist’s early geometric canvases, epitomising his vision of the world as he believed it would be experienced in a state of higher-dimensional, or ‘supreme’, consciousness.
The second-highest price was achieved by Constantin Brancusi’s La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard), which achieved $71,000,000 / £52,475,979, also a world record for the artist. Conceived in Paris in 1928 and cast in 1932, it is the only existing example in brass of Brancusi’s stylised portrait of the Anglo-American heiress and writer Nancy Cunard.
The extraordinarily rare piece came to Christie’s from The Collection of Elizabeth Stafford, who, with her husband Frederick, acquired the work directly from Brancusi during a visit to his studio in 1955. The work remained in the couple’s collection, and this was the first time it has been offered for auction.
Malevich and Brancusi were just two of the heralded names in a star-studded evening. Also headlining the auction was Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 masterwork, Vue de l’asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Rémy, which sold for $39,687,500 / £29,332,964. For decades a centrepiece of Elizabeth Taylor’s collection, this late work from the artist’s time at the asylum of Saint Paul de Mausole is the only one not painted from within the confines of the private hospital.
Further standouts included an exceptional group of works offered from the Collection of Joan and Preston Robert Tisch, two of New York’s most prominent civic leaders. As passionate about the arts as they were about philanthropy, the Tisches contributed leadership and financial support to institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, home of the Tisch Galleries, and the Museum of Modern Art.
A highlight of this collection, Joan Miró’s Femme entendant de la musique, painted just three days after Victory in Europe Day, on 11 May 1945, sold for $21,687,500/ £16,029,194. Others included Alberto Giacometti’s La Clarière, cast between 1950 and 1952, which sold for $15,781,250 / £11,663,895, and Fernand Léger’s Les trois femmes au bouquet (1922), a stellar example of the artist’s turn to neoclassicism, which achieved $12,968,750 / £9,585,181. The running total for the collection stands at $83,122,500, well over its low estimate of $55.2 million for the evening, with additional works to be offered in the Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper sales, and in the Post-War and Contemporary Art auctions.
In addition to Femme entendant de la musique, three Miró sculptures went under the hammer. The sale also featured a total of four sculptures and paintings by Alberto Giacometti, and a remarkably deep offering of Picasso paintings.
Strong prices were also seen for works offered from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Jerome S. Coles. Claude Monet’s Le Pommier achieved $7,062,500/ £5,219,882, well over its high estimate of $2,500,000, while Edouard Manet’s L'Italienne sold for $11,000,000 / £8,130,081. Overall, the collection realised $37,862,500, against a low estimate of $23.7 million.
Adrien Meyer, Co-Chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s, said, ‘The strong results realised this evening, with outstanding participation both in the room and on the phones, reaffirmed that the market is present and more international than ever, especially when the works on offer are of such exceptional quality and provenance.’
Christie’s 20th Century sales continue on 16 May with the Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper sale and the Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale.