Art Market Holds Up

Bloomberg reports that a Picasso painting of his mistress Dora Maar fetched £5.7 million at a Christie's International auction last night in London as dealers said demand held up in the year's first test of the impressionist and modern art market. The 1938 head-and-shoulders study, "Femme a Chapeau," had been expected to sell for £2.5-£3.5 million. The 2-foot-high painting was one of 131 lots in the impressionist and modern sale, the first of a series of art auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's that's estimated to bring in a record £429 million in February. The Picasso had failed to sell in 2002. Christie's three-hour sale raised £105.4 million including commissions, the second-highest total for an art auction in Europe, compared with a presale estimate of £89-£126 million before fees. The auction house said 76 percent of the lots were sold. According to the auction tracker Artnet, "Femme a Chapeau" had failed to sell at Sotheby's New York in November 2002 when it carried an estimate of $4-$6 million. Christie's said it had been offered by a Swiss company and sold to a European buyer in the room. Two lots later, the 5-foot-high Picasso canvas "Homme Assis au Fusil" (Man Seated With Rifle), dating from 1969, sold to a telephone bidder for £5.6 million, near the lower end of its estimated range. A group of eight drawings by the Austrian expressionist artist Egon Schiele sold for £12.5 million pounds with fees, compared with an estimate of £7.6-£10.8 million. The drawings were being offered by the Neue Galerie in New York to help pay for Gustav Klimt's "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," the museum said in a statement on Jan. 4. The cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder acquired the Klimt privately for the museum he founded for the record price of $135 million in June 2006. Most expensive of the drawings was a 1910 gouache, "Mother and Child" estimated at £1.5-£2 million pounds. This was bought for inventory by the London art dealer Richard Nagy for 2.9 million pounds. "This was the best nude in Neue Galerie's entire oeuvre of Schiele drawings," Nagy said after the sale. "It wasn't expensive. I would have been prepared to pay 50 percent more." The other main single-owner art consignment was a group of nine works by Kees van Dongen, Alexej von Jawlensky and other early 20th-century masters bought by the late Maurice Wohl, a U.K. office developer, during the late 1960s. Six of the nine sold, led by the record £5.6 million by a Swiss telephone bidder for the 1910 Van Dongen oil of an exotic dancer, "L'Ouled Nail," inspired by the artist's travels to North Africa. Christie's said 83 percent of the lots were bought by European buyers, including Russians. Fifteen percent were bought by buyers in the Americas, with 2 percent going to Asian bidders.