Behind the prices: our selection, March 2016


Auguste Rodin, Iris, Messagère des Dieux (1902-05)

Sold at Sotheby’s, 3 February, for £10.2m (£11.6m with premium; est £8m-£10m)

“This was a stand-out work, it impacted many artists after it was made,” says James Mackie, the head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern department. This piece exceeded expectations even in a difficult market because of its combination of daring, full-frontal nudity, its provenance (it has been in the collections of the Wildenstein dealing dynasty and was once owned by the actor Sylvester Stallone) and, perhaps most importantly, its rarity. Of the seven editions of this work, five are in museums and the sixth is in a private collection and unlikely to come to market any time soon.

René Magritte, Shéhérazade (1956) and L’Usage de la parole (1961)

Sold at Sotheby’s, 3 February, for £650,000 and £800,000 (£785,000 and £965,000 with premium; est £500,000-£700,000 each) respectively

These Magritte gouaches have been together since they were first commissioned by the collector Barnet Hodes. They were sold to the same buyer at Sotheby’s in 2006 and went to another single buyer this time. “It’s great that these two works, which were commissioned together, can remain together,” Mackie says. “Magritte is very much at the accessible end of the spectrum for Surrealism. Collectors enjoy the mystery of the image but at the same time it’s also readily readable.”

Georg Scholz, Small Town by Day (1922-23) Sold at Christie’s, 2 February, for £1m (£1.2m with premium; est £300,000-£500,000)

Work by Scholz, a leading figure in the short-lived Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement, is extremely rare on the market. This satire of the bourgeois ideals of an average German town achieved a record auction price for the artist and is “one of the finest examples of his work”, says Jay Vincze, the head of the Impressionist and Modern department at Christie’s. “It is very funny and very corrosive when you look at the details,” Christie’s Olivier Camu says. Its sister work, the same town scene by night, belongs to the Kunstmuseum in Basel.

Salvador Dalí, Pêcheurs au soleil (1929)

Sold at Christie’s, 2 February, for £980,000 (£1.2m with 

premium; est £700,000-£1m)

This work from a rare series (of only six works) was consigned by the heirs of its original buyer, a neighbour of Dalí. “There are only black and white images of this work in the catalogue raisonné; usually people flick right past them,” Camu says. The work is from the time that the artist was moving towards his more figurative later work. “It’s a painting-object, not just a painting. It’s 3D and highly complex. We had museum requests for loans as soon as it was published in our catalogue,” Camu adds. 

Adrian Ghenie, The Sunflowers in 1937 (2014)

Sold at Sotheby’s, 10 February, for £2.7m (£3.1m with premium; est £400,000-£600,000)

Collectors were selective about the small pool of younger artists on the block this season. One success story was a painting after van Gogh’s sunflowers by the 38-year-old Romanian artist, Adrian Ghenie. It sparked a bidding war between ten hopefuls, eventually selling over the phone to an Asian buyer. One dealer was overheard saying: “Well, if you can’t have the real thing…” On a more serious note, the painting was enticingly priced. “Where estimates were not bullish, works sold very well; but where sellers had unrealistic expectations, particularly for young artists, the works sold poorly,” the art adviser Lisa Schiff said after the sale.

David Hockney, Beach Umbrella (1971)

Sold Christie’s, 11 February, for £2.7m (£3.1m with premium; est £1m-£1.5m)

David Hockney was one of the undervalued artists to watch in the post-war and contemporary sales, and this early work could be considered a bargain for Larry Gagosian. Despite its hot colours and sunny scene, the canvas is a meditation on loneliness, having been painted just after the artist’s partner Peter Schlesinger left him. “The moment Peter Schlesinger left me, the figure disappeared out of the paintings for a while,” Hockney said at the time. The painting was a highlight of the British artist’s landmark 1988 retrospective, shown at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art before touring to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Tate Gallery in London.


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