Claude Monet’s grain stack painting fetched a record $81.4 million for the artist on Wednesday after a 14-minute bidding war.
The 1891 canvas, “Meule”, lifted Christie’s Impressionist and modern art evening sale to $246.3 million, a 69 percent jump from the similar auction a year ago. Christie’s also held a special auction last year of 20th century art, “The Artist’s Muse”, which hauled in almost half a billion dollars.
The strong night comes after dampened expectations for this week of bellwether sales in New York. Many sellers chose to sit out the auctions because of market contraction and volatility surrounding the U.S. presidential election. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips are targeting at least $1 billion in sales during this week’s auctions in New York, down 49 percent from a year ago.
Christie’s set auction records for two major artists on Wednesday — Monet and Wassily Kandinsky whose 1935 abstract composition “Rigide et courbe” fetched $23.3 million, within the estimated range.
“We needed to have this auction cycle to boost market confidence”, said Christophe van de Weghe, an art dealer in New York. “We can clearly see tonight that very high-quality art brings very high prices.”
Top lot: The Monet, which was estimated to sell at $45 million, last appeared at auction in 1999, when it sold for $12 million. The artist’s previous auction record of $80.4 million had remained unbroken since 2008.
Monet painted about 25 of the grain stack canvases in the early 1890s, of which 19 are in public museum collections, according to Christie’s. Works from this series are much rarer than the Impressionist master’s famous water-lily pond canvases that have been popular among buyers globally in the past decade.
Asian bidding: Collectors from Asia accounted for 11 percent of bidders and buyers at Christie’s on Wednesday. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa snapped up a jewel-like 1938 portrait by Pablo Picasso of his lover Dora Maar for $22.6 million, Christie’s said after the auction. It was one of 11 Picasso artworks in the sale, 10 of which found buyers.
Phillips: Earlier in the day, Paul Allen’s Gerhard Richter canvas sold for $25.6 million at Phillips, more than doubling in value since the co-founder with Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. purchased it in 2007. The 1963 canvas, “Dusenjager”, was estimated at $25 million to $35 million, the highest target of 18 works by the 84-year-old German artist on the auction block this week. There was only one bidder for the work, which was backed by a guaranteed bid to ensure it sold. At least 10 works were backed by such guarantees, helping the auction house tally $111.2 million, up 66 percent from a year ago.
Surprise: Carmen Herrera, the 101-year-old Cuba-born painter with a retrospective at the Whitney Museum, made her debut in the evening sale of 20th century art at Phillips. Her 1965 geometric abstract canvas “Cerulean” fetched $970,000, surpassing the high estimate and setting an auction record for the Latin American artist.
Takeaway: “People held back on the supply because they weren’t certain about the demand”, said David Norman, a private art dealer and until recently co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s. “Now that it’s clear the demand is there, the question is will the supply return?”