Tuesday, November 11, 2003

A Few Phenomenal Returns On Investment...

NY art auctions start with a bang at Christie's

By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prices were strong and bidding brisk on Tuesday at the first of auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's semi-annual Impressionist, modern and contemporary art sales, with new records set for both Modigliani and Leger.

Christie's officials called the $117 million result of its sale "a really fantastic evening," and for once the comment didn't feel like spin.

The top lot, a large-scale Modigliani, "Nu couche (sur le cote gauche)," from 1917 soared to $26,887,500 including Christie's commission, leading the way toward a total that auctioneer Christopher Burge, Christie's hononary chairman, said was the best the auction house had seen in several years.

The previous record for a Modigliani of $16,777,500 was set in 1999. The pre-sale estimate for the work, which went to an anonymous telephone bidder, was $20 million to $25 million.

Even at $26.9 million, however, the Modigliani was nearly eclipsed by the price commanded by Leger's "La femme en rouge et vert." Estimated at $10 million to $15 million, it soared to $22,407,500 with spirited bidding in both the packed sales room and from clients on the telephone. The price smashed the mark for a Leger, set at Christie's just two years ago, of $16,726,000.

Christie's had said before the auction, which carried a pre-sale estimate of $90.5 million to $125.2 million, that it had sought to keep the estimates conservative, and the strategy appeared to have paid off. Some 81 percent of the 43 lots offered found buyers, while the sale managed an impressive 94 percent of its dollar value which Burge said was "a signal that the market is very strong."

IMPRESSIONIST ART

"The sale did fantastically well," he said. "It was the best sale of Impressionist art in several years" at Christie's, taking in a total of $117,011,300. Burge added there was "tons of activity" in terms of bidding.

Other highlights of the sale included two van Goghs which were the third and fourth-highest priced works of the evening. "L'allee des Alyscamps," a vivid landscape from 1888, sold for $11,767,500, just under its low estimate of $12 million, while the small watercolor "Le pont de Langlois a Arles," from the same year, fetched $8,295,500, beating its $8 milion high estimate.

The latter work was in especially pristine condition, having belonged to the same owner for decades and spending much of that time stored in a vault.

A record was also set for sculptor Henry Moore, whose large scale work "Three Piece Reclining Figure: Draped" went for $6,167,500, easily eclipsing the old mark of $4,072,500 set in 1999.

Sculpture, which has been hot in recent years, commanded especially strong prices despite being relativley under-represented at both Christie's and Sotheby's this fall. Two other Moore works beat their high estimates, while Giacometti's "Buste de Diego," estimated at $600,000 to $800,000, soared to an astronomical $2,359,500.

Gustave Caillebotte's "Chemin montant," from 1881, set the number-two auction price for the artist, selling for $6,727,500, making it the fifth- highest priced lot of the sale. Monet's "Nympheas," one of the artist's seminal water lillies works, exceeded its high estimate of $3.5 million and sold for $4,151,500. And another van Gogh, "Nature morte, branche d'amandier," went for $4,375,500, easily beating its high estimate of $4 million.

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