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Sale of 70 Works Offers Mixed Results on Effect of Market Plunge : Records Plentiful as Art Auction Brings $37.6 Million

November 11, 1987|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer

NEW YORK — A $37.6-million sale Tuesday night at Christie's kicked off a two-day marathon of auctions expected to sell $150-million worth of Impressionist and modern art before the final hammer falls on Thursday afternoon.

The sale of 70 works by 36 artists offered strongly mixed results to auction watchers who are keenly scrutinizing the effect of the stock market's recent plunge on the art market.

On the down side, 22% of the lots failed to sell--including the evening's highest-priced item, a painting by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele, expected to fetch $4 million to $5 million.

Just $1 Million Short

But records were plentiful and total sales fell just $1 million short of the low end of Christie's pre-Black Monday estimate of $38.6 million to $51.2 million.

For the first time at Christie's, each of the top 10 sellers brought more than $1 million. Four of them went to Japanese buyers, who turned out in unprecedented numbers, according to Christie's officials.

The Motomachi Gallery of Japan paid the sale's top price of $5.28 million for French Impressionist Pierre Auguste Renoir's felicitous portrait, "Young Girl Carrying a Basket of Flowers."

"A hell of a price," according to auctioneer Christopher J. Burge, and nearly $2 million above Renoir's previous record of $3.52 million.

Monet Record

One of Claude Monet's "Waterlilies" paintings, from the Art Institute of Chicago's collection, sold for $3.3 million to an anonymous bidder, staying within its expected price range but still setting a record for the artist.

Burge knocked down a prime early landscape by Russian-born modernist and theoretician Wassily Kandinsky for a record $2.4 million, paid by an anonymous Japanese collector.

An unidentified New York dealer became the owner of Paul Gauguin's "Young Man With Flower" for $2.1 million.

Other works on Christie's top 10 list are Marc Chagall's "Le Bouquet des Fermiers" (at a record-setting $1.54 million), Monet's "Printemps, Bord de l'Epte" ($1.43 million) and paintings by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec ($1.27 million), Amedeo Modigliani ($1.21 million), Joan Miro ($1.1 million) and Edgar Degas ($1.1 million).

Fears Squelched

Last week's auctions of contemporary art provided the first indication of the unstable stock market's effect on art prices. Total figures in those sales fell short of the auction houses' highest expectations and few lots soared above the high end of their pre-sale estimates, but business was brisk enough to squelch fears that the bottom had dropped out of the art market.

At Christie's $7.8-million sale of contemporary art last week, 23% of the artworks failed to reach their reserve prices (minimums set by the buyer and the auction house), but all had bidders. A subsequent auction of contemporary art at Sotheby's totaled $17.6 million in sales, with only 15% of the lots not sold.

This week's sales of higher priced Impressionist and modern works mark the peak of the fall season.

Conservative Line

Christie's Tuesday night sale generally held a conservative line, subverting bullish estimates, set six months ago when the artworks were consigned, but by no means fulfilling dire predictions.

The season's highlight is yet to come, however. Vincent van Gogh's painting of "Irises" will be offered tonight at Sotheby's among a slate of 94 Impressionist and modern properties.

Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" sold for $39.9 million last March and "The Bridge at Trinquetaille," another work from the Dutch post-Impressionist's highly prized late period, brought $20.2 million in June.

Sotheby's expects "Irises" to sell somewhere between those two figures--currently the two highest auction prices ever paid for paintings.

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