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Christie’s New York Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Auction Totals $140,773,500

Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale achieved $140,773,500 (£88,687,305/ €102,764,655), with three works of art selling above the $10 million mark. Despite spots of selective bidding throughout the sale, Surrealist works and modern sculpture performed well overall, and buyers competed aggressively for rare works and those offered fresh to the market from private and museum collections. Christie’s offered the three top private collections this season, including the Property From the Collection of Lew and Edie Wasserman, which totaled $8.5 million; The Collection of John W. Kluge, sold to benefit Columbia University, which achieved $4.9 million; and A Distinguished West Coast Collection, which realized $10.5 million.

Max Ernst, The Stolen Mirror, oil on canvas, painted in 1941. Estimate: 4,000,000-6,000,000. Sold for: $16,322,500 / £10,283,175. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2011.

The top lot of the sale was Max Ernst’s The Stolen Mirror, a Surrealist tour-de-force painting, which realized $16,322,500 (£10,283,175/€11,915,425), setting a new artist record that more than tripled the artist’s previous record. The Stolen Mirror, widely regarded as one of the artist’s finest works, is a dream-like landscape painted in 1941 at the height of Ernst’s most feverish output. It once belonged to Edward James, one of the foremost early collectors of Surrealist art. It was later re-acquired by Ernst’s son Jimmy Ernst and descended through the family to the estate of Edith Dallas Ernst, which offered the work for sale. The painting was chased by multiple bidders in the room and on the phone, and ultimately sold to a European private collector.

Early in the sale, Christie’s realized a new world auction record for any single print sold at auction with the sale of Pablo Picasso’s La femme qui pleure, I, a drypoint, aquatint and etching on paper from 1938, which sold for $5,122,500 (£3,227,175/€3,739,425). The price far exceeded its pre-sale estimate of $1.5-2.5 million, as well as the previous record for a single print, set in 2007 for Edvard Munch’s Vampire II. The print inspired a spirited, five-minute bidding battle between clients in the room and on the phone, ultimately selling to an American trade buyer in the room. The wrenching image of a weeping woman was developed in concert with Guernica, Picasso’s landmark mural-sized canvas. The artist gifted and inscribed the work to the poet and writer Juan Larrea, who would later author the authoritative monograph of Guernica in 1947.

Leading the modern sculpture lots in the sale was Constantin Brancusi’s Le premier cri, a polished bronze ovoid work conceived in 1917 that has been in private hands for 35 years. It sold for $14,866,500 (£9,365,895/ €10,852,545) to a European private collector, soaring well beyond its pre-sale estimate of $8-10 million. This important bronze was included in Brancusi’s first museum exhibition, a comprehensive retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 1955, less than two years before the artist’s death.

Continuing the recent trend toward strong prices for Surrealist works, the third highest price in the sale was for René Magritte’s Les vacances de Hegel, or Hegel’s Holiday, one of Magritte’s most important paintings of the 1950s. Though the artist painted only two versions of this humorous composition, which depicts a glass of water perched atop an open umbrella, it remains one of the artist’s most well-known and emblematic images. The painting sold for $10,162,500 (£6,402,375/€7,418,625) to an American private collector. Elsewhere in the sale, Magritte’s La fin du monde, which features his celebrated “Man in the Bowler Hat” motif, sold for more than $7,026,500 (£4,426,695/ €5,129,345) to a South American private collector.

Works consigned from prominent museum collections also drew solid results, led by Paul Delvaux’s masterwork, Les Mains, 1941 which was offered by Museum of Modern Art, sold to benefit the acquisitions fund. The painting sold for $6,578,500 (£4,144,455/ €4,802,305) to an American private collector. Works by Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro and Barbara Hepworth from the Art Institute of Chicago also sold well, realizing a total of $5,183,500.

In total, three lots sold above $10 million, nine lots above $5 million, and 33 lots above $1 million. Thirteen different countries were represented, with strong participation from South America, China and Russia, as well as Western Europe and the United States.

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