Vollard sale has little to raise the pulse
The great names were there, but not many of their great works
By Claudia Barbieri. Web only
Published online: 30 June 2010
Paris. Sotheby’s Paris sale of works from the bank vault of the celebrated early 20th-century Paris art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard on 29 June showed the bumpiness of the post-recession market.
The names on offer were good—Renoir, Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Picasso among others. But the quality was patchy—a sea of run-of-the-mill lithographs, charcoals and etchings, dotted with occasional islands of excellence. The whole thing had the feeling of a clearance sale, perhaps because the top work from the Vollard vault, Derain’s Arbres à Collioure, 1905, had already passed through London a week earlier. Bidders reacted accordingly, with occasional spurts of phone enthusiasm enlivening a mostly flaccid room.
Overall, the 139 lots brought in just over €3.5m, in line with estimates. But the total hid a few highs and some remarkable lows.
Among the highs, a Picasso 1904 blue period etching, The Frugal Meal, jumped in a lively phone-bidding war to €720,750 including buyer’s premium, double the top estimate of €300,000. Strong bidding, again mostly from outside the room, sent a Degas brothel scene, La Fête de la Patronne, in monotype with black ink highlights, to more than €500,000, including premium, well above the top estimate, again of €300,000. And a sweetly chocolate-boxy Renoir coloured litho, The Pinned Hat, 1898, rose to an astonishing €252,750, three times the top estimate of €80,000.
“We were very satisfied,” said Samuel Valette, head of Sotheby’s impressionist and modern department in Paris. “The price paid for the Renoir was a record for its genre.”
But another Renoir coloured litho, Children Playing with a Ball, was among many lots that were knocked down far below their low estimates.
And, in the biggest upset of the day, a bidding mix-up left the top lot, a Cézanne portrait of Emile Zola, unsold. Finely executed in oils, if apparently unfinished, and estimated at €500,000-€800,000, it was withdrawn at €430,000 after being knocked down to a false bid at €440,000.
“These things happen,” Mr. Valette said. “We expect to sell it by private transaction.”
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