Sotheby’s got New York’s fall auctions off to a rollicking start with a sale of Impressionist and modern art on Tuesday that totaled $422.1 million, the highest in the 270-year-old company’s history.
Leading the charge was Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s 1951-52 bronze “Chariot”—depicting a finger-thin woman riding atop a chariot—that sold to a telephone bidder for $101 million.
Collectors and dealers in Sotheby’s York Avenue salesroom gasped when auctioneer Henry Wyndham kicked off the bidding for the work at $80 million,and quiet pervaded the early moments of the bidding. Sotheby’s had staked its own money to guarantee that the work would sell, a risky strategy, but it paid off when a telephone bidder swooped in at the last minute and placed a single, winning bid. The work had been estimated to sell for $90 million or more.
The “Chariot” now ranks with Edvard Munch’s $120 million “The Scream” as one of the most expensive artworks ever sold at auction, but the record for a Giacometti still belongs to the artist’s “Walking Man I,” which sold for $104.3 million four years ago. The “Chariot” buyer remains anonymous, but the specialist handling the winning bid typically represents American collectors.
Elsewhere in the sale, three bidders chased hard after Amedeo Modigliani’s “Head,” a 2-foot-tall stone bust of a woman with the artist’s signature elongated face. The winning telephone bidder paid $70.7 million, a record high for the artist. The dozen sculptures in Sotheby’s sale claimed nearly half the sale’s overall total—a sign that Impressionist and modern collectors continue to elevate the value of three-dimensional objects to the blue-chip status of paintings.
Claude Monet enjoyed a strong performance: His landscapes and a portrait accounted for four of the sale’s top 10 sellers and totaled $61.9 million combined. The star of this set, being sold by an American collector, was Monet’s sun-dappled portrait from 1881, “Alice Hoschede in the Garden,” which sold to an American phone bidder for $33.7 million.
Bidders from at least 40 countries participated in the sale, particularly Americans and Chinese. A Chinese telephone bidder paid $61.8 million for a burnt orange and mint green Vincent van Gogh “Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies,” along with a $605,000 Henri Matisse and a $1 million Aristide Maillol “Bather (Without Arms).” A Sotheby’s specialist who represents collectors in Hong Kong and China also won a $4.4 million Pablo Picasso, “Head of a Man with a Pipe,” as well as Joan Miro’s $2.2 million “Bird, Insect, Constellation.”
Overall, 58 of the 73 lots found buyers, which meant Sotheby’s only sold 79.4% of its pieces. But the robust prices paid for a handful of pieces helped the sale attain a healthy 95.2% of its total potential value. Among the casualties were examples by Balthus, Matisse, Marc Chagall and Giorgio de Chirico.
Christie’s counters Wednesday with its own Impressionist and modern art sale.