Christie’s Imp-Mod Sale Totals $158.5 M., With $18 M. Soutine Pastry Chef Up Top

At the Impressionist and modern art auction at Christie’s earlier this evening, auctioneer Andreas Rumbler hammered down an uneventful sale that brought in $158.5 million to the house.

The mood was quiet as most lots sold to the phone, usually with only one or two underbidders.

Of the 47 lots offered, three went unsold. As was the case last night at Sotheby’s, just one artist record was set. The Christie’s record breaker was the cover lot, a circa 1927 Soutine painting of a young pastry chef, which sold for $18 million (all prices include premium). That was just good enough to edge out the artist’s previous record of $17.2 million, set at Sotheby’s London in 2007.

As at Sotheby’s last night, few lots in the Christie’s auction went for above estimate, 14 to Sotheby’s 19, and most that did go over didn’t do so by much.

The one difference from yesterday’s affair was a high-profile failure, a 1905 Derain, Madame Matisse au kimono, which was bought in at $13 million, despite being from the usually desirable period of the artist’s oeuvre, generally accepted as between 1900 and 1910. The house had tagged it with a $15 million to $20 million estimate.

“We saw strong interest leading up to the sale and things changed at the last minute,” Brooke Lampley, the house’s head of Impressionist and modern art, said at the press conference afterward. She said Christie’s had hope for the painting on the private market.

The sale’s total of $158.5 million was safely within its $131.4 million to $190.5 million estimate, though those ranges are calculated before premium so it was a close call.

Early on, one determined collector from France drew attention as he bid on the second lot—La Juive (circa 1907–8) by Amedeo Modigliani—from a seat in the back with an iPhone in his free hand, recording Mr. Rumbler and the whole room chuckling at the scene. He eventually won the painting for $6.84 million.

“It’s a very important work to me,” he said, declining to give his name, though he did say that he doesn’t usually buy at auction. “I wanted to have a souvenir.”

Bidding on the phones seemed diverse, judging by the numbers denoting buyers, and at the press conference after the auction Christie’s reps said that phone bidders came from 30 different countries, with especially strong interest in Asia.

In the room Steven Platzman, an art advisor from California, picked up a hotly contested Claude Monet, Chemin (1885), for $5.1 million, an Alfred Sisley from 1873, Pommiers en fleurs—Louveciennes, for $2.4 million and Dans la salle à manger by Berthe Morisot (1880) for $483,000. He bought on behalf of clients.

“These are classic Impressionist pictures,” he said, of what drew him to the pieces. “All of them new to market out of private collections.”

Overall Ms. Lampley said the sale showed the “strength of the middle market.”

“It’s an educated strong, marketplace,” she said, “where people are willing to spend money for artists that don’t frequently come to auction.”

The auctions continue next week, with the houses’s postwar and contemporary sales starting at Sotheby’s on Tuesday.

(All auction research courtesy of Artnet)

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