Some of the finest Impressionist and Modern art offered for auction by Christie's in New York fell short of expectations on Tuesday despite strong interest from buyers in the middle market.
The auction house estimated that 46 lots at its flagship November evening sale would fetch $188.8 to $277.7 million, but instead sales peaked at $144.3 million late Tuesday. The most expensive lot, a portrait by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti of his brother Diego, estimated at $30-$50 million, went for $32.65 million to an anonymous buyer.
The auction house said the price was a world record for the Swiss artist in that medium. But of the 46 lots, 11 were withheld from sale after bidding fell short of expectations. A Pablo Picasso canvas of the painter and a model was withheld after offers peaked at $23 million, well short of its $25-35 million estimate.
A portrait by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani of his Polish friend Monsieur Baranowski also fell short of its $25-35 million estimate when bidding stopped at $19 million. It had been earmarked as one of the highlights of the auction offerings, painted in 1918 and in pristine condition. Christie's said there had been tremendous interest from Asian buyers, particularly from China.
A Picasso portrait of his children, Claude and Paloma, sold separately as part of the collection of Holocaust survivor Jan Krugier went for $28 million to Chinese conglomerate the Dalian Wanda Group, for their corporate collection. The Krugier collection in total fetched $113.7 million. Christie's said the evening sale on Tuesday showed confidence in the middle market and a healthy appetite among private collectors and dealers.
Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and Modern art, downplayed any possible disappointment about the Picasso and Modigliani not achieving their price. "We believed in the pictures. We didn't find the bid in the room tonight but I'm sure we'll either be receiving good after sale interest or you'll see them in the future sale venue," she said.
An oil canvas by Russian painter Vassily Kandinsky, Schwarz und Violett, was the stand out performance of the night, fetching $12.6 million, up from its estimate of $4.5-$7.5 million. "It really speaks to the appetite for dramatically modern, graphic, geometric pictures," said Lampley. "It's a great example, completely fresh to the market. So I'm not completely surprised but it's a great, great price."
Rival auction house Sotheby's is selling 65 lots worth $200 million in the same category on Wednesday evening. Next week are the sales of post-war and contemporary art, which feature some of the finest masterpieces of 20th century art and will be the highlights of New York's November auction season.