Painting fetches R780 million at Sotheby’s auction

New York - Edvard Munch’s “Girls on the Bridge" fetched $54.5m (R779.3m) at Sotheby’s on Monday as the week of bellwether auctions in New York began.

The 1902 canvas was expected to sell at more than $50m, the highest estimate of the week of auctions targeting more than $1bn at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips. Sotheby’s evening sale of Impressionist and modern art tallied $157.7m, within the estimated pre-sale range but a 49% decline from the similar auction a year ago.

The painting has broken records every time it has gone under the hammer. It went for $30.8m in 2008, compared with $7.7m in 1997.

The Norwegian artist's most famous work, "The Scream," was his most expensive work of art to sell at auction, at $119.9m in 2012.

“A solid sale in a somewhat subdued sale room,” said Thomas C. Danziger, a partner at Danziger, Danziger & Muro, LLP law firm, who attended the sale. “Given the excitement - and anxiety - of the past week, it was reassuring to see that the art market stayed afloat, even if the mood wasn’t very buoyant."

Top lot:

The Munch was the top lot of the evening and one of three guaranteed pieces. Sotheby’s found third-party backers to place irrevocable bids, ensuring the works were bought. Each of these works sold to the backers and drew no other bids either from the room or on the phones. Sotheby’s pricing revealed that the buyer of the Munch received a $2m fee for providing the bid.

Night’s Surprise:

The evening’s sole auction record for an artist belonged to a 1920s geometric abstract composition by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. His enamel on steel “EM 1 Telephonbild" fetched $6.1m, smashing the previous record of $1.6m. The buyer was Mathias Rastorfer, co-owner of Switzerland-based Galerie Gmurzynska on behalf of a client. The work was recently exhibited at the artist retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. “For a connoisseur, it was a very good buy,” Rastorfer said. “It was incredibly radical at the time and it still looks very contemporary.”

Casualties:

Of the evening’s 42 offered lots, eight failed to sell. One casualty was Tamara de Lempicka’s 1925 portrait of a man in fur-collared coat, “Portrait de Guido Sommi” that was estimated at $4m to $6m. A 1923 painting of a woman in a blue dress by Henri Matisse, estimated at $5 million to $7m, also didn’t find a taker.

Takeaway:

“It’s the first test after the US presidential election and the market passed it,” said Hugo Nathan, an art adviser based in London. “It’s a solid start for the week.”

Edvard Munch’s “Girls on the Bridge". (Photo: Sotheby's)

At Sotheby's, the spotlight returns a long-running series of Pablo Picasso paintings titled "Painter and his model." This particular 1963 painting by the Spanish artist sold Monday for $12.9m. It had been estimated between $12 million and $18m.

This first auction of the week, which drew more than 600 collectors or buyers from around the world by phone or in person, notched up about $151.9m in sales in paintings and sculptures.

Among the other works to go on the auction block this week is Claude Monet's "Meul," part of a series of haystacks the French artist painted during the winter of 1890-1891. Christie's has estimated it will sell at $45m.

Another notable Christie's offer will be Willem de Kooning's imposing "Untitled XXV" - (two by 2.2 meters) - featuring the Dutch-American's typically vigorous, multicolored brush strokes. Christie's estimates a sale at $40m.

- With additional reporting by AFP.

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