Sotheby’s sets historic record at auction



Sotheby’s has just made art market history. As we have been predicting since January (see AMI, 26 January 2004), we now have a new all-time record price for an artwork at auction: USD 93 million thanks to Pablo Picasso. Once taxes and commission are included, this was also the first time a painting has broken USD 100 million.

On 5 May 2004, after just seven minutes’ bidding taken by auctioneer Tobias Meyer, Pablo PICASSO’s le Garçon à la Pipe succeeded in toppling Vincent Van Gogh’s le Portrait du Docteur Gachet. It is now a modernist and not an impressionist canvas that tops the list of highest-grossing artworks. As artworks commanding more than USD 1 million at auction are few and far between (just 1/1000 of lots sold), this new record is likely to stand for some time.

TOP 10 auction paintings records (1987 – May 2004)ArtisteŒuvreVente1 PICASSO Pablo (1881-1973)USD 93 000 000 : Garçon à la Pipe (1905)05/05/2004 (Sotheby’s, New-York)2 GOGH van Vincent (1853-1890)USD 75 000 000 : Portrait du Docteur Gachet 15/05/1990 (Christie’s, New-York)3 RENOIR Auguste (1841-1919)USD 71 000 000 : Au Moulin de la Galette (1876)17/05/1990 (Sotheby’s, New-York)4 RUBENS Peter Paul (1577-1640)GBP 45 000 000 : The Massacre of the Innocents (c.1608-1609)10/07/2002 (Sotheby’s, London)5 GOGH van Vincent (1853-1890)USD 65 000 000 : Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe (1889)19/11/1998 (Christie’s, New-York)6 CÉZANNE Paul (1839-1906)USD 55 000 000 : Rideau, cruchon et compotier (c.1893-1894)10/05/1999 (Sotheby’s, New-York)7 PICASSO Pablo (1881-1973)USD 50 000 000 : Femme aux bras croisés (1901-1902)08/11/2000 (Christie’s, New-York)8 PICASSO Pablo (1881-1973)FRF 300 000 000 : Les noces de Pierrette (1905)30/11/1989 (Binoche, Paris)9 PICASSO Pablo (1881-1973)USD 45 000 000 : Femme assise dans un jardin (1938)10/11/1999 (Sotheby’s, New-York)10 PICASSO Pablo (1881-1973)USD 44 000 000 : Le Rêve (1932)10/11/1997 (Christie’s, New-York)

The painting was part of an important sale of 34 lots from the Whitney collection. This collection has raked in near to USD 190 million at Sotheby’s (the most optimistic pre-sale estimates were for just over USD 157 million). Nor was le Garçon à la Pipe the only record. No fewer than four other artists had their records broken that same night. William BLAKE’s The Good and Evil Angels Struggling for Possession of a Child fetched USD 3.5 million. Raoul DUFY’s Fête à Sainte-Adresse went for USD 2.8 million. Sir Alfred James MUNNINGSThe Red Prince Mare sold for USD 7 million and Frédéric Bazille’s Pot de Fleurs went under the hammer for USD 4.75 million.

This amazing sale has considerably boosted Picasso’s price index. The fall-out was apparent the very next day, when collectors, quick off the mark on hearing the news, bid furiously for the best of the artist’s canvasses in the second part of the sale, “Impressionist & Modern Art”. Thus Nu accroupi estimated at USD 3–4 million and Femme Nue assise, estimated at USD 1.5–2 million, easily beat their pre-sale estimates. The first piece, a painting from 1959, went for USD 11.8 million, including commission. The second went for three times its highest pre-sale estimate. In the same evening, two important records were set – BALTHUS’s Golden Afternoon (USD 3.4 million) and Jacques VILLON’s L’Acrobate (USD 1.15 million).

The evening before, three new records were set at Christie’s, for Tamara DE LEMPICKA’s Portrait of Mrs. Bush, which sold for USD 4.1 million, Odilon REDON’s Vase au guerrier japonais, which fetched USD 3.4 million, and Giorgio DE CHIRICO’s Il grande metafisico, which went under the hammer for USD 6.4 million. In all, 32 of the 39 lots put up at auction at Christie’s that evening found a buyer, raising a total of close to USD 56 million, including commission – five times less than their rival Sotheby’s.