May 8, 2008 / 12:09 AM / 10 years ago

Records fall at N.Y. art auction, foreigners dominate

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Art records fell on Tuesday for works by Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin and Alberto Giacometti in New York City at a Christie’s auction dominated by foreign buyers taking advantage of the weak U.S. dollar.

The auction house reaped more than $277.2 million at the Impressionist and Modern Art sale where 44 of the 58 lots were sold — 32 percent to U.S. buyers, 52 percent to European buyers, and the rest to other parts of the world.

Christie’s fell short of its low pre-sale estimate of $286 million, but Christie’s auctioneer Christopher Burge said that was based on the sale of all 58 lots and that the auction house had still achieved it’s third-strongest New York sale.

“Generally speaking for the very best things the market was still red hot and top prices were more than we expected,” Burge told a news conference following the packed evening sale that saw fewer works offered than last year. “Obviously the (U.S.) dollar plays some part.”

Monet’s 1873 “Le Pont du chemin de fer a Argenteuil,” described by Christie’s as “one of the greatest Impressionist pictures left in private hands,” sold for $41.48 million beating the previous record for the artist’s work of $36.56 million.

While the painting of trains crossing a bridge across a river as boats sail underneath was sold to an anonymous phone bidder, two other Monet works were among 14 lots not sold.

A bronze sculpture by Rodin, “Eve, grand modele-version sans rocher,” sold for nearly $19 million, smashing the previous record of $9.1 million, and a Giacometti bronze sculpture sold for $27.4 million to Gagosian Gallery, well over the previous record of $18.5 million.

Another sale highlight was Henri Matisse’s 1935 “Portrait au manteau bleu,” which was sold for the first time at auction for $22.4 million.

“I don’t think there’s a tremendous amount to read from (the auction) apart from what we all know — that the dollar is on the weak side at the moment and the euro and the pound are strong, which encourages overseas bidders to come to the sales here and compete again U.S. buyers,” Burge said.

Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art sale fell short in November, sending its share price tumbling. It bounced back with a spectacular contemporary sale the following week as well as strong results in London in February. Fourth-quarter profit last year rose nearly 50 percent.

Tuesday’s auction kicked off a fortnight of sales by Christie’s and Sotheby’s — the archrivals of the high-stakes auction — during which further records could be set and the likely total is expected to be more than $1 billion.

The top-priced lot is Bacon’s “Triptych, 1976,” which is expected to command in the neighborhood of $70 million at Sotheby’s. Christie’s has its own Bacon Triptych, “Three Studies for Self-Portrait,” bearing a pre-sale estimate of more than $30 million.


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