Christie’s revealed today (31 March) that it will offer 12 works from the collection of the late Texan philanthropist Anne Bass in a single-owner sale during the house's marquee week of 20th and 21st century art sales in New York this coming May. The group of works, which includes pieces vaulted names like Degas, Monet and Rothko, is being described by the auction house as “the most important American collection to come to auction this season” and is expected to fetch over $250m. The confident description holds water. Recent single-owner evening sales have been anchored by guarantees, usually on more than half the works, but only two pieces (a pair of Rothko paintings) from Bass's collection have been guaranteed, according to a Christie's representative.
The paintings and sculptures that will be put up for auction once filled Bass’s tony Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan and will likely continue the trend of Impressionist and Modern works commanding high prices, not only because of their quality but because of who once owned them. Last year, the auction house had much success selling works from the collection of another Texan with oil money, Edwin Cox, and in the process smashed four auction records and placed a stunning Caillebotte at the Getty. Of the 23 lots in the Cox sale, 16 had guarantees.
The announcement comes on the heels of the auction house revealing it would feature another well-known woman during its marquee spring sales, Marilyn Monroe. Earlier in March Christie’s made headlines by unveiling Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, which it expects to sell for a tidy $200m. While much was made of the “dogfight” between Christie’s and their rival Sotheby’s over the rights to sell the massive Macklowe Collection, which the latter house won (possibly because it was able to guarantee every single lot in its first auction), Christie's bringing the Bass collection to market may help make the scales a bit more even.
Notable among the works are a duo of vibrant red and orange paintings by the artist Mark Rothko which bookended a cased opening in the collector's living room. One of them, Untitled (Shades of Red), is expected to bring between $60m-$80m, while the lighter canvas No. 1 has a slightly more conservative estimate of $45m-$65m. Bass, who was known for placing works in her apartment so that they could, as the auction house puts it, engage in “provocative dialogues across artistic periods”, had another interesting paring in plain view: the young girls in Edgar Degas’s bronze sculpture Petite danseuse de quatorze ans (est $20m-$30m) and Balthus’s Jeune fille à la fenêtre (est $4m-$6m) sat just a few feet apart from each other in the entrance to her apartment.
“The collection of Anne Bass represents everything that today’s buyers are seeking: masterpiece quality, rarity, incredible freshness to the market, and most of all, a reflection of a sophisticated collector who knew perfection when she saw it,” says Bonnie Brennan, the president of Christie’s Americas. “I am particularly honoured to celebrate such a strong female collecting voice with this remarkable collection.”