New York Auction Round-Up: Spring 2016

Jasper Johns, Flags I (1973), screenprint in colors, 27 3/8 x 35 1/4 inches. Edition of 65, plus 7 artist’s proofs. Co-published by the artist and Simca Print Artists, Inc., New York. Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd. 2016.

Sotheby’s kicked off the spring print sales with a three-part auction on 20–21 April. The evening sale on the 20th attracted a large crowd with a number of highly sought-after lots and achieved a strong sell-through rate of 90.6%. The first lots—linocuts by Sybil Andrews—drew little interest, with the first, Market Day (1936), selling to an absentee bidder at the low estimate of $15,000 and the second, Day’s End (1961) passed through with no bids. Things quickly gathered steam, however, and the next three lots shot past their high estimates: Étude pour une corrida (1971) by Francis Bacon at $93,750 (est. $40,000–60,000); Ste Sebastienne (1992) by Louise Bourgeois at $27,500 (est. $10,000–15,000); and Untitled: Four Prints by Jean-Michel Basquiat at $298,000 (est. $100,000–150,000). Other hits included Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved (1965) at $100,000 (est. $30,000–50,000) and Warhol’s Moonwalk (1987) at $262,000 (est. $80,000–100,000), both of which set new auction records. The high seller for the night was Picasso’s Portrait de jeune fille, d’après Cranach le jeune (linocut, 1958), at $694,000 (est. $400,000–600,000), also a new auction record.

Bidding was less animated but still solid at the modern sale the next morning. Although all works by and after Chagall sold, some struggled to meet the low estimate, including The Pheasant (1966) at $20,000 (est. $30,000–50,000) and Sur la Terre des Dieux (In the Land of the Gods) (1967) for $81,250 (est. $80,000–100,000). Odalisque, brasero et coupe de fruits (lithograph, 1929), surprised by surpassing its high estimate more than fivefold in a battle between phone and online bidders—it finally sold for $27,500 (est. $3,500–5,000). Other Matisses sold within or slightly above estimate. Works by Picasso were stable as well, though a couple surpassed their estimates with room to spare: Le repos du sculpteur devant un centaure et une femme (etching, 1933) at $16,250 (est. $6,000–8,000) and Minotaure, Buveur et Femmes (etching and drypoint, 1933) at $30,000 (est. $12,000–18,000).

The afternoon contemporary sale continued the trend, with the large majority of works selling within estimated range. Among the few lots that unexpectedly doubled their high estimates were Joan Mitchell’s eight-lithograph portfolio Poems (1992) at $13,750 (est. $1,500–2,500); DeKooning’s Untitled (man standing, facing left, 1970) at $27,500 (est. $8,000–12,000); and two photo-lithographs by Lesley Dill, Throat (1994) at $2,375 and Back (1994) at $2,750 (both est. $700–1,000). The total sell-through rate for both sales on the 21st was a substantial 84.5%.

Phillips’ two-part “Evening and Day Editions” sale on 25 April posted strong numbers, with 300 of 345 lots selling, for an 87% sell-through rate. During the morning sale, works by Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella and Donald Judd were hot items, with many selling at the high end or over their estimates. Other exceptional lots included Imi Knoebel’s Untitled (1994, an acrylic on aluminum multiple), for $6,875 (est. $1,500–2,500); Albers’s Formulation Articulation I and II (1972) at $15,000 (est. $5,000–7,000); Robert Motherwell’s At the Edge (1984) at $18,750 (est. $6,000–9,000); and Lee Krasner’s Primary Series (1969) at $15,000 (est. $6,000–9,000).

The well-attended evening sale began with a group of German Expressionist prints from the collection of Ann Nisenson, which attracted live, telephone and online bids. The preeminent lots in this group included Max Pechstein’s Das Vater Unser (The Lord’s Prayer, 1921), a complete set of 12 woodcuts with hand-coloring, for $81,250 (est. $20,000–30,000), an auction record for the set; and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Kopf Ludwig Schames (Head of Ludwig Schames, 1918) for $35,000 (est. $25,000–35,000). A number of other sales also broke records, including Keith Haring’s Retrospect (1989) at $197,000 (est. $100,000–150,000); Roy Lichtenstein’s View from the Window from Landscapes series (1985) at $191,000 (est. $70,000–100,000); Cy Twombly’s, Lepanto III (1996) at $106, 2500 (est. $25,000–35,000); Andy Warhol’s Cow Wallpaper, Wall panels (1966) for $100,000 (est. $25,000–35,000), a record for the artist’s wallpaper works; and Donald Judd’s four Untitled (1993) woodcuts for $87,500 (est. $40,000–60,000). Most of the higher-priced lots in the evening sale sold extremely well, and only seven of 99 lots failed to find buyers, for a 93% total sell-through rate.

Doyle’s prints and multiples sale on 25 April featured a variety of mainly lower-priced lots, and attracted a respectable live audience. The sell-through rate for the sale was 89% (261 of 293 lots). Although most lots found buyers, a few higher-priced lots had trouble attracting any attention. Lucian Freud’s Large Head (1993) and Woman with an Arm Tattoo (1996) (both est. $40,000–60,000) passed through, as did Helen Frankenthaler’s Tales of Genji V (1998) (est. $25,000–35,000). A higher-priced set by Andy Warhol, Martha Graham (1986) (est. $60,000–80,000), sold below estimate for $55,000. On the other hand, a number of lots jumped markedly past estimate, including Edvard Munch, The Woman and the Skeleton (1896) at $20,000 (est. $7,000–10,000); George Grosz, Nachtcafe (Für Dr. Benn) (1918) at $10,000 (est. $2,000–3,000); Egon Schiele, Male Nude (Self Portrait) (1912) for $34,375 (est, $10,000–15,000); and two works by Käthe Kollwitz, Halbfigur einer Frau mit verschränkten Armen (ca. 1905) (est. $10,000–15,000) and Frau mit Kindern in den Tod gehend (1924) (est. $10,000–15,000), both at $25,000. More contemporary works that sold well included Karel Appel’s Paysages Humains (1961) at $10,000 (est. $2,000–3,000) and Richard Serra’s Hreppholar VII (1991) at $6,250 (est. $2,000–3,000).

Christie’s three-session sale on 26–27 April marked another successful auction, with an 86% sell-through rate and a remarkable new record price for a print by Jasper Johns—the eye-popping $1,685,000 bid for the 1973 color screenprint Flags I (est. $800,000–1,200,000). The first Modern prints session had a small live audience and most bids were placed by phone or online. Of the opening run of 28 Mirós, only four did not sell and two—La Baigneuse, (drypoint, 1938) and Femme et Volcan, (etching 1938) went exceptionally high: $13,750 (est. $6,000–8,000) and $20,000 (est. $5,000–7,000) respectively. One pronounced weak spot were the three Mary Cassatt prints—neither The Coiffure (ca. 1891, est. $30,000–50,000) or Woman Bathing (La Toilette) (ca. 1891,  est. $70,000–100,000) found buyers. The Bath (1891), offered without a reserve, was sold only after the starting bid was lowered from $5,000 to $1,500; it reached $3,500 (est. $10,000–15,000).

The afternoon sale of Post-War and Contemporary work on the 26th included the headline lot of the sale. In addition to Flags I, several other Johns prints sold over estimate, including Untitled (linocut, 2000), for $27,500 (est. $10,000–15,000) and Target, a 1967 color lithograph, for $20,000 (est. $8,000–12,000). Rauschenberg’s monumental Booster (1967) sold for $118,750 (est. $80,000–120,000) and the 1970 screenprint Signs, surprised at  $35,000 (est. $10,000–15,000). Georg Baselitz’s Trommler, a 1981-2 linocut, more than doubled its estimate at $33,750 (est. $8,000–12,000). But there was little interest in works by Lucian Freud, with only one of five works selling at the low estimate to an absentee bidder [Head and Shoulders of a Girl (1990) for $30,000]. Overall, the sell-through rate for Christie’s first day was 79.3%.

The following day the large number of Warhols—all of which sold—contributed to an astonishing 97.1% total sell-through rate for the second Post-War and Contemporary session. The sale began with a run of Kelly and Stella prints, most of which went above estimate. Standouts included Kelly’s Colored Paper Image XII (Blue Curve with Brown and Gray, 1976) and Red Curve (State II, 1988) for $20,000 (est. $7,000–10,000) and $32,500 (est. $10,000–15,000) respectively; and Stella’s Double Gray Scramble (1973) for $68,750 (est. $20,000–25,000). Bridget Riley’s Untitled [Based on Blaze] (1964) sparked a battle between absentee, live, phone and online bidders—eventually going to a phone bidder for $60,000 (est. $15,000–25,000). A dozen prints from Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup I and Campbell’s Soup II all sold above estimate, with the leader (predictably) being Tomato at $106,250 (est. $40,000–60,000). The remainder sold for between $27,500 and $43,750 each.

Swann Auction Galleries’ encyclopedic three-part sale of old master through modern prints took place on 28 April, beginning with the 119-lot sale of a private collection, “A Collector’s Vision: Works on Paper from the Belle Époque and Beyond.” The total sell-through rate for the auction was 71%, with 394 of 556 lots finding buyers.

During the first session, Goya proved to be popular, with all five prints selling, two etchings going notably above estimate: Que pico de Oro from the Caprichos (ca. 1799) at $8,125 (est. $3,000–5,000) and Otra Locura suya en la Misma Plaza (1816) from the Tauromaquia at $6,000 (est. $2,000–3,000). Other noteworthy lots included Manet’s etching La Queue devant la Boucherie (1870–71) for $5,250 (est. $1,500–2,500); Paul Signac’s color lithograph Application du Cercle Chromatique de Mr. Ch. Henry (1888) for $6,500 (est. $2,000–3,000); and Erich Heckel’s woodcut Mann in der Ebene (1917) for $12,500 (est. $3,000–5,000). Works by Pierre Bonnard were less successful, with only four of 13 prints selling.

The second session featured old master prints. Works by Dürer consistently fetched prices within estimate with the exception of St. Michael Fighting the Dragon (woodcut, 1498), which rose to $17,500 (est. $5,000–8,000). Two engravings by Hendrick Goltzius also cleared their high estimates: The Great Hercules (1589) at $27,500 (est. $12,000–18,000) and The Dragon Devouring the Companions of Cadmus (1588) at $16,250 (est. $3,000–4,000). Rubens’ St. Catherine (ca. 1620) exceeded expectations at $35,000 (est. $15,000–25,000).

The third session began with a run of etchings by Rembrandt and interest centered around the higher-end works, including Self Portrait in a Cap and Scarf with the Face Dark: Bust (1633) for $37,500 (est. $12,000–18,000); Old Bearded Man in a High Fur Cap, with Eyes Closed (ca. 1653) for $30,000 (est. $10,000–15,000) and Saskia with Pearls in her Hair (1634) for $40,000 (est. $20,000–30,0000). Among modern works, perennial favorites such as Picasso and Miró sold consistently if without drama, while the four Gauguin prints failed to attract any interest and a high-priced lot by Munch, Der Tod im Krankenzimmer (1896) was also passed over at $50,000 (est. $70,000–100,000). One surprising lot was Emil Orlik Gustav Mahler (1902 etching and roulette), which sold for $15,000, quintupling its high estimate of $3,000.

Left: Rembrandt van Rijn, Self Portrait in a Cap and Scarf with the Face Dark: Bust (1633), etching, 13.5 x 10.5 cm. Right: Hendrick Goltzius, The Great Hercules (1589), engraving, 56 x 40.5 cm. Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Left: Rembrandt van Rijn, Self Portrait in a Cap and Scarf with the Face Dark: Bust (1633), etching, 13.5 x 10.5 cm. Right: Hendrick Goltzius, The Great Hercules (1589), engraving, 56 x 40.5 cm. Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Swann’s “Contemporary Art” sale on 12 May attracted a large audience and the auction house reports “a record number of first-time bidders.” Even so, the sell-through rate was only 68% (233 of 345 lots). A limited selection of works by Lichtenstein and Warhol produced unexceptional prices, though an unusual Lichtenstein silk panel intended for a dress, Sunrise (1965) and Indian, an early 1951 painting by the artist, sold lower than expected, at $31,200 (est. $40,000–60,000) and $37,500 (est. $60,000–90,000) respectively. On the other hand, his iconic Sweet Dreams, Baby! (1965) did surpass estimate at $125,000 (est. $60,000–90,000). Works by Alex Katz were generally strong, with Anne (screenprint on laser-cut aluminum, 1990), beating its estimate at $27,500 (est. $12,000–18,000). Other memorable lots included Ruscha’s Real Estate Opportunities (1970) at $21,250 (est. $8,000–12,000) and James Turrell’s Series B from First Light (1989–90) at $21,250 (est. $10,000–15,000).

Bonhams’ “Modern & Contemporary Prints & Multiples” sale on 7 June yielded modest results with few surprises. The sell-through rate for the sale was 70.9%, with 90 of 127 lots selling.

The top selling lots in the sale struggled to pass low estimate, and included Lichtenstein’s Reflections on Soda Fountain (1991) for $47,500 (est. $40,000–60,000); Picasso’s Après la Pique for $40,000 (est. $40,000–60,000) and Warhol’s Liz (1965) for $37,500 (est. $30,000–50,000). One conspicuously popular artist was Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita: his 19 Plates from A Book of Cats (1929) sold for $31,250 (est. $15,000–25,000) and 3 Plates from A Book of Cats (1929) sold for $5,000 (est. $1,200–1,800). Other exceptional lots included Georg Baselitz’s Orangenesser (Orange Eater) (1981) for $6,875 (est. $1,200–1,600) and Joan Mitchell’s Sunflower V (1992) for $12,500 (est. $3,000–5,000).

Estimates do not include buyer’s premium; prices achieved however include both the hammer price and buyer’s premium.

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