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Picasso to Giacometti’s Sticks Lead Sotheby’s $322 Million Sale

April 10, 2014

Monet Painting

Claude Monet's painting, one of the first major Impressionist landscapes to arrive in the U.S., is estimated at $5 million to $7 million, according to Sotheby’s. Source: Sotheby’s via Bloomberg

Trophy works by Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso will lead Sotheby’s (BID:US) Impressionist and modern art sale in New York next month.

Estimated by the auction house to bring $220.6 million to $321.5 million, the 72-lot evening sale on May 7 has the second-highest presale target for the category at Sotheby’s in more than five years. The top tally came in May 2012, when Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” sold for $119.9 million, an auction record for any artist at the time, and $330.6 million was generated.

The auction helps kick off the two weeks of semi-annual New York events that act as barometers for global demand. Asian collectors have emerged in the past five years as the fastest-growing geographic segment, even as Americans remain the largest single group of buyers in the category, according to David Norman, Sotheby’s co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide.

To woo buyers, New York-based Sotheby’s toured its biggest highlights, including the top lots of the upcoming season, in Hong Kong this month.

Facing competition from longtime rival Christie’s and growing pressure from activist hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb, whose Third Point Capital LLC held a 9.6 percent stake in the company (BID:US) as of March 25, Sotheby’s is fighting for every new client.

“In a market like this, when there are less than 100 bidders at an evening auction, one or two extra bidders from China can make a big difference,” Norman said in a telephone interview. “Each additional bidder generally adds 10 percent to 25 percent to the final price.”

Modern Bent

The sale will be light on Impressionist art and heavy on modern works, Norman said.

The top lot by estimate is Matisse’s light-saturated “La Seance du Matin (Morning Session),” a 1924 canvas that depicts the artist’s assistant Henriette Darricarrere painting in a yellow striped robe. It is estimated at $20 million to $30 million. Another version of the painting, depicting Darricarrere and a nude model, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Met, which is holding on to that Matisse, has consigned Claude Monet’s 1882 painting “Sur la Falaise a Pourville” (“On the Cliff at Pourville”). One of the first major Impressionist landscapes to arrive in the U.S., it’s estimated at $5 million to $7 million, according to Sotheby’s.

Stick Figures

Giacometti’s sculpture “La Place (City Square),” conceived and cast in 1948, is expected to bring $12 million to $18 million. The piece, shown on the sale’s catalog cover, depicts five miniature stick-figure people, one woman and four men, on a horizontal platform. The anonymous seller purchased the work for $4.5 million in 2000, also at Sotheby’s in New York.

Picasso’s 1932-34 portrait of his lover, Marie-Therese Walter, is one of 14 works by the Spanish artist in the sale. Estimated at $15 million to $20 million, the work had belonged to William Rubin, the late director of the painting and sculpture department at the Museum of Modern Art. It was included in “Picasso and Portraiture, Representation and Transformation,” a 1996 exhibition Rubin organized at the museum.

“There’s no other artist you can have so much material from and the market is still hungry to absorb it,” Norman said.

Christie’s will hold its evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on May 6. The 54-lot event is expected to raise $245 million to $360 million, the highest presale target for such art since May 2010, according to Christie’s.

To contact the reporter on this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christian Baumgaertel at Josh Friedman

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