Christie’s lead but Mel Gibson loses during American paintings sales

The moviestar sold a key Maxfield Parrish canvas at a $2m loss as plunging financial markets continue to affect auctions

NEW YORK. Even Hollywood star Mel Gibson’s trove of Maxfield Parrish works at Christie’s yesterday were rattled by the plunging financial markets and US consumer price index hitting a four year low during the spate of American paintings sales. Christie’s raked in $35,127,500 against a $36m-$56m estimate and just ahead of Sotheby’s take of $31,927,625, expected to make $28m-$43m. While those totals are double the amount fetched a year ago, the percent sold by lot remains mired at the 60% level.

Gibson and his wife, who are divorcing, chalked up a whopping $2,397,500 loss for Parrish’s oil Daybreak, 1922, two figures in a sugary landscape. The “Lethal Weapon” star and his wife had acquired the picture for $7,632,000 at Christie’s New York on 25 May 2006 and sold it for $5,234,500 to a private phone bidder yesterday. Not selling was one of their 11 Parrish paintings identified in the catalogue as from “a private American collection” as did one other Parrish from another owner.

Judy Goffman Cutler who brought Robyn Gibson to Christie’s and co-founded the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, Rhode Island believes too many Parrish pictures were on the block. “In my opinion, Christie’s flooded the market with the Daybreak buyer getting the steal of the century,” says Cutler. The Gibson consignment brought $10,991,500 (est $9,789,000-$15,657,000). “For us Daybreak is one of the bigger prices for American painting achieved since the recession began,” says Eric Widing, Christie’s specialist.

In addition to the Gibson haul, Christie’s had scored another major consignment, Manhattan dealer Bernard Goldberg’s inventory. Although his Edward Steichen oil Moonlit Landscape, 1907, scored $362,500, many of the Goldberg pictures fared less well as they had been shopped around.

Andrew Wyeth’s Off Shore, 1967, jumped to $6,354,500 (est $1.2m-$4.8m). It came from the estate of tastemaker Jane Engelhard and was bought by Frank Fowler, Wyeth’s longtime friend and dealer in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.

At Sotheby’s the day before as the Dow dove 85 points, the audience dwindled and the bid rate climbed. Just like at Christie’s blue chip names like Mary Cassatt and Andrew Wyeth failed to attract attention.

The top scoring painting was a Georgia O’Keeffe flower picture. Her Black Petunia and White Morning Glory I, 1926 went for $4.1m to a private repped by New York dealer Robert Simon who also took her Inside Clam Shell, 1930 for $3.4m for the same client.

Then Texan Roger Horchow with a shopping catalogue, a favorite of the rich is slimming down his holdings. His Marsden Hartley Berlin Series, No. 1, c. 1913, which had belonged to Alfred Stieglitz, went for $1.8m. Records were struck for George Benjamin Luks and George Hitchcock.

“The thinnest part of the market is the middle, pictures priced $50,000-$500,000,” says Betty Krulik, Upper East Side private dealer. She walked off with John Singer Sargent charcoal Portrait of Maria Nelke, 1912 for $98,500. “In pre-Lehman Brothers days,” she says, referring to the bankruptcy of the investment bank, “it would have made $150,000. Now there’s opportunity to buy.”

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27 May 10
15:44 CET


Thank you Charles, the article has been updated to correct this.

27 May 10
15:40 CET


Newport is not in Connecticut.

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