Sotheby's triumphs with $290 million Impressionist and modern art sale

Thu Nov 7, 2013 12:03am EST
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Impressionist and modern art achieved strong prices on Wednesday as Sotheby's held one of its biggest auctions ever, in a dramatic turnaround from two nights of disappointing sales at Christie's earlier this week.

Led by Giacometti's sculpture "Grande tete de Diego" and Picasso's oil "Tete de femme," which fetched $50 million and $39.9 million respectively, the sale totaled more than $290 million, with 81 percent of 64 lots finding buyers.

It was Sotheby's best Impressionist and modern art result apart from its May 2012 sale at which one of the versions of Munch's "The Scream" sold for a record $120 million. The strong sales were likely to calm market jitters that followed Christie's results, which fell far short of expectations.

As the hammer came down on the final lot, applause and whoops broke out in the salesroom. Auctioneer Tobias Meyer responded to the reaction, saying, "So the market is alive, huh?"

David Norman, Sotheby's co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide, admitted to concerns before the sale, given Christie's' sales at which most of the top lots went unsold and totals fell far below even the low pre-sale estimates.

"I was concerned that the market was feeling nervous and cautious," he told Reuters after the blockbuster sale.

Norman said pre-sale interest indicated a good showing, "but I wasn't anticipating how many bidders would be chasing the top lots."

Indeed, collectors' deep pockets were well in evidence as more than half a dozen bidders went after Picasso's "Mousquetaire a la pipe," a vibrant 1969 work that sold for $30,965,000, about 50 percent more than its estimate.   Continued...

A Sotheby's employee stands behind Alberto Giacometti's artwork "Grande tete de Diego" at Sotheby's auction house in London October 11, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth