Vollard sale has little to raise the pulse

The great names were there, but not many of their great works

Cezanne's "Portrait of Emile Zola" failed to sell (Photo: AP/Jacques Brinon)

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 Finely executed in oils, if apparently unfinished, and estimated at €500,000-€800,000, it was withdrawn at €430,000 after being knocked down to a false bid at €440,000.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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6 Jul 10
15:10 CET


Dear Sir Why is your correspondant writing about the so called 'Vollard' sale in Paris so misinformed? Unless it is his intention to adopt Sotheby's PR shorthand which conveniently smothers reality in an attempt to promote sales, and hence perhaps your readers' inclinations The works did not come from a bank vault belonging to Ambroise Vollard And these were but the very much lesser remains of the group found in the vault: of this most bidders present will have been aware, & is the prime cause of lackluster bidding, rather than any so called 'market bumpiness' The group has been severely 'cherry picked' over the last 30 years by a miscellaneous bunch of claimants, ably assisted by their lawyers Your's Sincerely, Jeremy Madden

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