Artcurial: records in Modern art



Leader in France for Comics and Old Masters, the French auction operator Artcurial has distinguished itself this year in the Modern art sector with three 7-figure results recorded respectively for Aristide Maillol, Nicolas de Staël and Gustave Caillebotte. The prices achieved prove that foreign collectors participated in the bidding, pushing up the prices…. as long as the proposed works combined the required qualities.

New all-time record for Aristide Maillol

In the race for auction records that drives the international art market, the French operators struggle hard to generate historical hammer results in a high-end market that generally prefers London and New York. The generation of a new auction record on the Paris market place deserves to be highlighted, especially as Aristide MAILLOL’s bronze La Rivière doubled its pre-sale estimate, going under the hammer for €5,298,500, or $7.2m excluding costs (nearly $8.4m including fees). The La Rivière sold by Artcurial was an artist’s proof of an exceptional late work by Maillol, three versions of which already belong to museums (the MoMA, New York, the Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena, and the Jardin du Carrousel, Paris).
In general, his most sought-after masterpieces pass through New York (66% of the artist’s auction revenue) and London (23%), with France only generating 8% of his market in terms of total revenue. Nevertheless, the Artcurial result for La Rivière dethrones the artist’s previous auction record generated in New York 13 years ago (for L’Air created 1937), one of the most famous Modern sculptures with its audaciously balanced form. On 2 December 2013, Artcurial added no less than $4.2m to the previous record set by Sotheby’s on 9 November 2000, in a bidding race rarely seen in France. It was also the first million-plus auction result for Maillol recorded in France. The French market is nevertheless rich in works and surprises happen even today, like the recent discovery of hundreds of sketches, hitherto forgotten in the vaults of banks in the south of France. The auction company Nice Enchères recently (28 November 2013) sold the drawings by lots of five, nine, fourteen, etc. for average prices ranging between $1,500 and $5,500.

Nicolas de Staël: prices soar

Another modern masterpiece, Nicolas DE STAËL’s Nu Debout (1953) fetched €4m ($5.2m) on 3 June 2013. This is now the third best auction result for a work by the artist. This vertical composition (measuring 156cm high by 89 cm wide) was created at a pivotal time for the artist when he was returning to figurative work after his series of Footballers and just when he was starting to achieve international recognition. Nu Debout was in fact created while he was preparing his first solo exhibition in the United States (at the Knoedler Gallery in New York). Although it was well received at the time and he already had an abstract painting (1947) in the MoMA, his market has remained almost dormant in the U.S. where supply has been meagre. Nearly all of his works sell between London and Paris. London attracts most of de Stael’s masterpieces (allowing it to generate half the artist’s revenue with just 26% of the total lots sold) while France is, a priori, the market’s supply hub (half of the lots are sold in Paris). This $5.2m result therefore consolidates Paris’s position in this competition. Paris is also where the artist’s auction record was generated in 2011 with another nude (reclining), Nu couché, (Nu) (1953/1954) that fetched $8.1m (over $9.4m including fees). Much cheaper than his British or American peers, De Staël has only a small presence on the secondary market….although his price index has risen by 251% over the past decade.

Gustave Caillebotte: the Impressionist collector

Gustave CAILLEBOTTE’s Le Pont de l’Europe which fetched the equivalent of $2 million on 2 December 2013, is, so far, the French record for a work by the French artist after 14 seven-figure results generated between London and New York. It was also, behind Maillol and De Stael, Artcurial’s third highest result in 2013. Although Caillebotte is undeniably one of the major impressionist painters, he has long remained in the shadows of his compatriots and friends Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Edouard Manet. This lover of Impressionist and Pointillist paintings was also a great collector, and the financial support he injected to support Modern art was considerable, including his acquisition in 1875 (at Drouot) of several paintings by Monet, Sisley, Morisot, Renoir that remained unsold.
Caillebotte was thus very much involved in the innovative ideas of his time, both as a patron and a creator. Le Pont de l’Europe sold by Artcurial this year represents an iconic subject for the Impressionist movement, that of a modern urban monument, a tribute to the golden age of the industrial revolution. The canvas was also a rarity after being kept for 60 years in a French private collection, and is a version of the famous composition Le Pont de l’Europe (1876) at the Musée du Petit Palais in Geneva. Over the last 10 years, Caillebotte’s price index has continued to climb, with re-sales sometimes generating spectacular results, as was the case with Le pont d’Argenteuil et la Seine (c.1883) which more doubled its auction price between 2008 and 2011 to peak at $16 million, the artist’s current record (Le pont d’Argenteuil et la Seine, fetched $18 million including costs, at Sotheby’s New York on 2 November 2011).

If the pulse of the high-end market is still focused on New York, Paris has not thrown in the towel. Christie ‘s and Sotheby’s both consider that a high-end market must be maintained in France. On 4 December 2013, the American firm Sotheby’s sold Portrait of Roger Dutilleul by Amedeo MODIGLIANI for $7.73m, the third highest Amedeo Modigliani result in France.