Brancusi sculpture sells for record $71m at Christie’s

Customers stand in a gallery displaying art for auction at Christie’s International Plc in King Street, London, U.K., on Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. Photographer: Simon Dawson

INTERNATIONAL – Record prices for works by Kazimir Malevich and Constantin Brancusi lifted Christie’s Impressionist and modern art auction in New York on Tuesday to $415.9 million, the company’s second-highest haul in the category in a decade.
The results fell within an estimated range of $326.6 million to $459.6 million, representing a 43 percent increase from a similar auction a year earlier. Of the 37 lots offered, only four didn’t sell. Christie’s also beat Sotheby’s, which tallied $318 million in a similar auction Monday, where a single painting by Amedeo Modigliani made up half the total.
“It was a shot in the arm for the market,” said David Norman, a private art dealer in New York. “It was properly executed, reasonably estimated and with very few guarantees. It was a good, clean sale.”
The event was buoyed by low reserve prices on the lots and the charming authority of the night’s auctioneer Adrien Meyer. The top lot of the evening was “Suprematist Composition,” an amalgam of hard-edged geometric shapes painted in 1916 by Malevich that sold for $85.8 million, a record for the Russian avant-garde artist. It was estimated at $70 million. (Prices include Christie’s commission; estimates don’t.)
The Malevich work became a repeat auction champion. In 2008, the canvas sold for $60 million at Sotheby’s, an artist’s record until it resold on Tuesday.
It attracted two bidders — a client of Alex Rotter, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas, and Brett Gorvy, co-founder of Levy Gorvy gallery in New York and London. Gorvy placed the winning bid from the auction room.
Collectors from around the world competed for fresh material from the estates of several American collecting families. That included 10 lots from billionaire couple Joan and Preston Robert Tisch, which tallied $83.1 million, surpassing the estimated target of $80 million for the entire group. Many more Tisch lots will be offered this week.
The most expensive work in the Tisch estate was Joan Miro’s 1945 painting, “Femme entendant de la musique,” which fetched $21.7 million. That surpassed the high estimate of $15 million.
A brass head by Brancusi, sold by the estate of Elizabeth and Frederick Stafford, an American couple who bought it directly from the artist for about $5,000 in 1955, fetched a record $71 million.
Titled “La jeune fille sophistiquee (Portrait de Nancy Cunard),” the 1932 unique cast depicts a woman with a ponytail, displayed on a block of marble. The price smashed the previous record of $57.4 million for the Romanian-born artist, set last year.
The work was estimated at about $70 million and had a third-party guarantee, announced in the salesroom before the auction. The winner was Loic Gouzer, a Christie’s rainmaker who masterminded the da Vinci sale in November. His client was the guarantor, Christie’s confirmed, who received a fee of $187,500.
Crown ‘Jewels’
“These fine quality, old collections are clearly the jewels of the crown for the auctions,” said Melanie Clore, an art adviser based in London, referring to the estates of the Rockefeller, Tisch and Stafford families.
Having the Rockefeller collection was a “great draw” that helped Christie’s win many of these estates, said Max Carter, head of Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department in the Americas. The collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller offered at live auctions and online sold out to the tune of $832.6 million last week.
“What marked this season versus May of last year was the broader and reinvigorated base of clients,” Carter said.
The Christie’s auction initially included two Picasso paintings, estimated jointly at as much as $105 million, belonging to casino magnate Steve Wynn, who resigned as CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd. in February amid sexual-misconduct allegations. He has denied wrongdoing. Both paintings were withdrawn after one of them, the artist’s self-portrait “Le Marin,” was damaged on Friday.
“It’s unfortunate,” art dealer Nicholas Maclean said, referring to the damaged painting. “But the sale did very well.”