Christie’s 20th- and 21st-Century London Sale Achieves Lackluster Results

Femme dans un rocking-chair (Jacqueline), 1956, by Pablo Picasso sold for 16.9 million British pounds at Christie’s in London, on Tuesday.

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A late-period portrait by Pablo Picasso of his second wife, Jacqueline, realized £16.9 million (US$20 million) as the top-selling lot in an otherwise uninspiring evening sale of 20th- and 21st-century art on Tuesday at Christie’s in London.

Offered from a private collector, the portrait, Femme dans un rocking-chair (Jacqueline), 1956, had a presale estimate of between £15 million and £20 million. The final sale price, which includes fees, landed on the lower end of the range, but was still multiples above the £2.48 million the consignor paid in 2007.

Other works by Picasso sold throughout the event were also met with lukewarm responses, with one piece, Femme assise dans un fauteuil tressé, en gris (Françoise), falling short of a presale estimate. The portrait, painted in December 1953, sold for £5.3 million (£4.4 million at the hammer), against an estimate between £6 million and £9 million.

The painting was kept in the artist’s family for decades and sold by his granddaughter Marina in 1983. The anonymous German consignor acquired the painting in 2002. 

Another highlight of the evening sale, Picasso’s Mousquetaire I (Espagnol du XViième siècle), painted in April 1967, fetched £5.4 million, with fees, compared to the presale estimate of between £4.5 million and £6.5 million.

In total, Christie’s evening sale in London achieved £129 million, near the low end of a presale estimate range that doesn’t account for fees. Ten lots out of 74 in all failed to find any buyers, resulting in an 87% sell-through rate, according to Christie’s.

Scillonian Beachscape by Lucian Freud

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Still, Giovanna Bertazzoni, Christie’s vice chairman of 20th / 21st century art noted that more than 50% of lots offered sold above the high end of their estimate range. Liu Ye’s The Goddess, for instance, drew active bidding before selling for £3.1 million, with fees, far above a £1.2 million high estimate.

Two rare landscapes by Lucian Freud, Scillonian Beachscape and Garden from the Window, previously in the collection of British businessman and philanthropist Simon Sainsbury, each brought in £4.6 million, with fees, with the former selling within its presale estimate, and the latter beyond its high estimate of £3.5 million.

A landscape by Paul Cezanne, L’Aqueduc du canal de Verdon au nord d’Aix, which has been in the collection of a Swiss family for more than a century, sold for £7.2 million, with fees, also within the range of its presale estimate of between £6 million and £9 million.

A piece by Vincent van Gogh, Kop van een vrouw (Gordina de Groot) (Head of a Woman [Gordina de Groot]), that has been kept in the same family for 120 years and unseen in public for 80 years, sold for £4.8 million, with fees, more than double its presale high estimate of £2 million.

Other works that generated excitement include David Hockney’s Chair with a Horse Drawn by Picasso, from 1970, which sold for £4.4 million, with fees, against a presale high estimate of £2 million; and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Jeune fille endormie (La dormeuse), which sold for £5 million, with fees, against a presale high estimate of £3 million.

Interest in Ultra-Contemporary Artists Remains Strong

A 2017 painting by Brooklyn-based contemporary artist Shara Hughes, Rough Terrain, turned out to be “smooth sailing”—in the words of Christie’s auctioneer—following a bidding war demonstrating that interest in ultra-contemporary artists remains strong. With an estimate of between £200,000 and £300,000, the painting attracted bids from Japan, Singapore, and a representative on the phone. The buyer in Singapore placed the winning bid of £500,000, which added up to £630,000 with fees.

Hughes’ auction record was set at a Christie’s sale in New York last year for her work Spins from Swiss, which sold for US$2.94 million.

A gallery assistant holds Souvenir de voyage (Travel souvenir), 1958, by Rene Magritte at Christie’s auction house during the press preview of its 20th- and 21st-century art sale.

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René Magritte’s Works Lead the Art of the Surreal

Right after the 20th- and 21st-century art sale, Christie’s held its auction of “The Art of the Surreal.” The 32-lot sale of Surrealist works realized £38.9 million, with two lots failing to find buyers.

The leading lot was René Magritte’s Le retour (the return), featuring the artist’s most poetic motifs: the oiseau de ciel, or sky-bird, in mid-flight. Offered from a Swiss collector who acquired it in 2004, the painting sold for £6.1 million (£5.1 million at hammer), just above its high estimate of £6 million.

The artist’s 1958 painting, Souvenir de voyage (Travel souvenir), fetched £5.6 million (£4.6 million at hammer), well beyond its presale estimate of between £2.5 million and £3.5 million.