Sotheby’s and a record auction for Kandinsky and Miró

Sotheby’s and a record auction for Kandinsky and Miró

Sotheby’s Evening Sales of Impressionist & Modern Art and Actual Size at Sotheby’s London totalled a combined £148,877,000 / $187,719,009 (est. £129.9-170.5m). The total for the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale represented an increase of 24% over the equivalent auction last year.

The auction record for Wassily Kandinsky was broken twice in the space of six lots. First to go under the hammer was Murnau – Landschaft mit grünem Haus from 1909, which sold for £21 million / $26.4 million / €23.9 million. One of the finest early works by Kandinsky left in private hands, this painting made its auction debut having remained in the private collection of the same family since the 1920s.

A major Expressionist painting of blazing colour, it captures the moment of transition in the artist’s career when he was on the cusp of moving from figuration to abstraction. That record was broken minutes later by Kandinsky’s powerful abstract masterpiece Bild mit weissen Linien from 1913, which was driven by a prolonged bidding battle to £33 million / $41.6 million / €37.6 million. A profoundly important work that hails from a landmark moment that fundamentally changed the way art was conceived and understood, it reveals the artist’s discovery that colour could become the principal subject of a painting. Virtually all of the significant paintings of 1913 are in major museum collections, and this work was appearing on the open market for the first time. Together with 4 Figuren auf 3 Quadraten from 1943, a late work illustrating Kandinsky’s interest in tribal iconography and geometry, the total achieved for Kandinsky tonight was £54.4 million / $68.6 million. Kandinsky’s powerful abstract masterpiece Bild mit weissen Linien from 1913, which was driven by a prolonged bidding battle to £33 million / $41.6 million / €37.6 million. A profoundly important work that hails from a landmark moment that fundamentally changed the way art was conceived and understood, it reveals the artist’s discovery that colour could become the principal subject of a painting. Virtually all of the significant paintings of 1913 are in major museum collections, and this work was appearing on the open market for the first time. Together with 4 Figuren auf 3 Quadraten from 1943, a late work illustrating Kandinsky’s interest in tribal iconography and geometry, the total achieved for Kandinsky tonight was £54.4 million / $68.6 million.

Another major auction benchmark was set by Joan Miró’s Femme et oiseaux, which sold for £24.6 million / $31 million / €28 million – a new record for the artist in sterling. This price also marks the third highest result for a work on paper by a Western artist*. A mesmerising example of Miró’s celebrated lyricism and freedom of expression during WWII, the work is the eighth of the extraordinary series of twenty-three Constellations – one of the most significant bodies of work by any 20th century artist. Offered at auction for the first time in 30 years, it was the first of the Constellations to appear on the open market since an auction at Sotheby’s in 2001. The previous record for Miró was set for Peinture (Étoile Bleue), which sold at Sotheby’s London in 2012 for £23.6 million / $37.1 million.

The strong results for sculpture seen in the May New York sales continued tonight, led by Alberto Giacometti’s Grande figure (1947), a unique cast that fetched £17.9 million / $22.6 million / €20.4 million. A further sculpture by the artist, Femme debut sans bras from 1958, was competed for by four bidders to bring £2.2 million / $2.7 million (est. £700,000-1,000,000).

Further notable prices across the sales included a record established for a work by Théo van Ryssleberghe, as L’Escaut en amont d’Anvers (1892) sold for £8.5 million / $10.7 million (est. £7-10m), along with a record in sterling for a work on paper by Paul Klee, as Salon Tunisien sold for £2 million / $2.6 million (est. £1.5-2m).

The curated Actual Size evening auction was led by an extremely well-preserved still-life of flowers by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder – which was both won and underbid by Asian private collectors – selling for £3 million / $3.7 million (est. £2-3m), an auction record for the artist in sterling. Asian interest was evident throughout the sale, with over 20% of lots in the Actual Size auction purchased by collectors from Asia. From the father of still-life painting to a record for a still-life by contemporary master Lucian Freud, whose Strawberries soared above high estimate to £1.2million / $1.5 million (est. £550,000-750,000) – or £120,000 per strawberry. Works by Pablo Picasso also performed well throughout the auction, with six works together totalling £7.9 million / $9.9 million. These were led by Buste de femme couchée from 1970 that fetched £2.4 million / $3 million – more than double its high estimate of £900,000. Eight bidders eagerly competed for the work in the room and by phone.

Participation from a record 37 countries – with 20% of lots sold to Asian collectors, 20% to the US and the remainder to Europe and beyond 4 lots sold over £10 million.

 

Top image: Lot 45 Joan Miró, Femme et oiseaux, gouache and oil wash on paper, 13 April 1940

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