Bidding frenzy grips the Paris scene



The Carré auction gets down to business: 85% of lots sold exceed their high estimates

Paris hosted an auction festival on 9-10 December. New auction house Dassault held its inaugural sale — breaking up the legacy of Olga Carré, widow of gallery owner Louis Carré — and confounded even the most optimistic forecasts. Piasa and Artcurial-Briest should be well satisfied. Total turnover for the two days of the Fine Art auctions was EUR16.3 million (excluding buyer’s premium and tax).

The secrets of success

Certainly the turnover of the 414 auctioned modern artworks seems modest compared to some of the prestigious sales in New York and London, but rarely has there been so much competitive bidding at an auction. The 24 telephones in the auction room rang constantly as bidders fought over each new lot presented. No rest for the hammer with 98.3% of lots finding a buyer. The orgy of bidding stoked up enthusiasm for works by Jean René BAZAINE, Jacques VILLON, André LANSKOY or Auguste HERBINand prices exploded. 379 lots went for more than their high estimates.

All the artists sponsored by Louis Carré added to the frenzied atmosphere. None of their pieces were left unsold. One reason for the success was the freshness of the works. Most had been selected and bought by Carré from the artist and never sold at auction before. Some had never been shown. Another key factor was the absence of reserve prices, which meant estimates could be weighted. In other words, collectors’ curiosity was provoked.

A harvest of record bids

From the first lots, waves of enthusiasm dominated the auction room. One enthusiast lost his heart to lot 3, a small study by Aristide MAILLOL : EUR55,000 almost three times the initial sale price. Next, Raoul DUFY tasted success with his Orchestre sur la Place du Village setting the tone: EUR98,000 for an estimate of EUR40-50,000. Moments later, two of his watercolours also doubled expectations. Lot 11, Vase de Fleurs, a luminous gouache by Pierre BONNARD also met with frantic acclaim: EUR215,000 and EUR85,000 above its high estimate. Euphoria can be infectious. One by one the lots came up for sale and were snatched up. And yet, some people had feared so many modern artworks would flood the market.

Quantity does not harm prices when quality is high.

Auguste HERBIN, Raoul DUFY, Jean René BAZAINE, Maurice ESTEVE, Jacques VILLON and André LANSKOY, all artists who were particularly close to Louis Carré, each had more than 20 pieces in the sale. Many assumed that so many works by the same artist at the same auction would undermine their price level. But this was to ignore the exceptional quality of most of the lots on offer.

The 45 André LANSKOY sold extremely well. All exceeded their high estimates, some of his collages by three or four times. His oldest painting, the 1923 Paysage went for EUR14,000, ten times its estimate.
A spectacular success also for Jean René BAZAINE, who confirmed a 20% rise in prices since the beginning of the year. As we worked our way through the 38 lots, prices got higher: low estimates were doubled, quadrupled, and multiplied by ten or fifteen in the case of some 1945 drawings tagged at less than EUR300.
Enthusiasm for Maurice ESTEVE really took fire in the third session with 16 charcoal drawings on paper (lots 325 to 340) were knocked down for between EUR3,000 and EUR8,000, averaging around four times their high estimates.
Jacques VILLON (Louis Carré was his patron and friend) had a shock success with his very first lot, Homme Dessinant, a self-portrait dated 1935 which found a buyer at EUR180,000. Estimates had been for EUR20-30,000.
Auguste HERBIN’s success was more mixed. All his geometric abstractions in his post-1943 visual idiom found a buyer at more than their estimates, but some earlier abstract paintings proved unpopular. A gouache on paper from 1944-45 is worth EUR10-15,000. His most successful piece was a sizeable oil painting (73×54 cm), Pain et Vin III. The painting which had been estimated at EUR28-35,000 finally fetched EUR85,000. Raoul Dufy had mixed results with works of varying quality. Unsurprisingly 11 out of 75 Raoul Dufy lots were sold short of the estimates. More puzzling was the lack of enthusiasm for his masterpiece. Le Moulin de la Galette was knocked down at EUR780,000 well below expectations (EUR1-1.3 million).

It was generally the most highly estimated works that sold least well. Above a million Euros, bidders were thin on the ground. Fernand LÉGER’s oil paintings sold within their estimate range. But his price level still rose in 2002, it being thought that the only collectors willing to bid in this price league are in the US.

The top 10 overbiddings at the Olga Carré auction Ranking based on the hammer price / estimate rate

Hammer price





€ 3 500

€ 100-150


Nu féminin


€ 4 000

€ 150-200

Jacques VILLON

Tête de femme


€ 5 500

€ 250-350


Port de pêche


 € 5 000

€ 300-400

Jacques VILLON



€ 80 000

€ 5 000-7 000

Jacques VILLON

Les haleurs nus

Oil / canvas

€ 2 200

€ 150-200




€ 32 000

€ 2 000-3 000


Sans titre


€ 20 000

€ 1 500-2 000


Paysage animé

Oil on canvas

€ 2 000

€ 150-200




€ 14 000

€ 1 000-1 500



Oil on canvas