High-end art world escapes recession

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

An expert from Sotheby’s auction house gestures as he describes a 1932 painting by Pablo Picasso entitled “Femme Assise Pres d’une Fenetre” (Woman Sitting Near a Window), at Sotheby’s auction house during a Jan. 31 press preview in London. The painting was expected to sell for 25-35 million pounds (US$ 39.5-55 million, euro 29.1-40.8 million) and fetched 28.6 million pounds ($44.9 million) at auction Tuesday.

Associated Press

LONDON – The high-end art market is weathering Europe’s economic storm, with London auctions this week netting more than $440 million as international bidders snapped up high-profile works.

Sales of Impressionist, modern and surrealist art at rival auctioneers Christie’s and Sotheby’s saw several pre-sale estimates shattered.

Judd Tully, editor-at-large of Art and Auction magazine, said Thursday that the two big auction houses had “exceptionally strong sales.”

“The art market seems to confound all other financial indicators,” he said. “There is a lot of money sloshing around, and it’s very global.”

Christie’s said “new and established buyers from 19 countries” snapped up works at a Wednesday sale that saw a portrait by Amedeo Modigliani sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $42.1 million, above its top estimate.

Modigliani’s 1919 portrait of his lover Jeanne Hebuterne was the highlight of Christie’s Impressionist and modern auctions, which raised a total of 136 million pounds.

“Après le déjeuner” by 19th-century Impressionist Berthe Morisot sold for $10.9 million, almost three times its high estimate and a record price for a female artist at auction.

A day earlier, Pablo Picasso’s 1932 work “Woman Sitting Near a Window” – a portrait of the artist’s “golden muse,” Marie-Therese Walter – fetched $45 million at Sotheby’s.

In total, Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern sales raised 145 million pounds.

Both auction houses held separate surrealist sales that brought strong prices for artists including Rene Magritte and Joan Miro.

At Sotheby’s, “The Farmer and his Wife,” a vivid Miro canvas from 1936 once owned by filmmaker Billy Wilder, sold for just under $9.3 million.

Salvador Dali’s 1943 “Portrait of Mrs. Harrison Williams” – an image of a famous New York socialite who later became Countess Mona Bismarck – sold for just under $3.6 million.

Works by Egon Schiele and Claude Monet also commanded high prices at the week’s auctions, although some high-profile lots failed to meet their reserve prices.

Three works by Schiele raised a higher-than-expected total of 14 million pounds at Sotheby’s, with one – “Lovers (Self-portrait With Wally)” – netting just under $12.4 million, an auction record for a work on paper by the early 20th-century Viennese artist.

“There has been a lot of talk about the Impressionist and modern market dying out because of a lack of a material,” Tully said. “But when really good property shows up there seems to be a lot of appetite for these works.”

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