The auction season is off to a solid start at Sotheby's where works by Amedeo Modigliani, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso were up for auction. Although the works for auction were largely considered mediocre or inferior examples by these famous names, it was a record-breaking auction and shows art's steady recovery.
Modigliani's 1917 portrait "Nude Sitting on a Divan (The Beautiful Roman Woman)," a seductive painting of a nude woman, was sold for $68.9 million, well above the estimated price and a new record for the artist. Like several other works up for auction, the Modigliani has previously been on the market in recent years, sold by Sotheby's in 1999 for $16.7 million (a record for the artist at the time). The painting, described in the catalogue as a "post-coital rendering," was sold early on in the sale and got the auction off to an excited start.
A water lilies painting by Monet sold for $25.7 million. It was one of two works sold by Marilyn Arison, wife of late billionaire Ted Arison, who sold the works to benefit the nonprofit YoungArts. The couple bought the painting for $9.9 million in 1998.
Several works by Matisse were also up for auction. His "Dancer in an Armchair With a Checkered Floor" sold for $20.8million. It has also been sold recently, in 2000 for $7.4 million and 2007 for $21.7 million. Another work by Matisse, a bronze called "Deux Negresses" was sold for $8.4 million. Another Matisse painting, a portrait of model Titine Trovato failed to sell with an estimate of $8 million. (It also failed to sell at a Sotheby's auction in 2008 with an estimate of $18 million.)
It was not such a good night for Picasso, whose "Man With a Flag," 1969, sold for $5.3 million, which was the lower end of the estimated sale price. A second work, "Man and Woman With a Bouquet", 1970, went unsold.
In the end, the auction totaled $227.6 million, which was in the middle of the estimated total sales price. The sale included 61 lots, a quarter of which went unsold, including works by Francis Picabia, Joan Miro, Picasso and Matisse. While the auction has been deemed a success, many agree the sales were sensible with average or overpriced works not faring well. Rory Howard, a private art dealer from London, was quoted in the New York Times referencing the appeal of the big names for sale at more reasonable prices: "It's designer brands for new buyers. Art as fashion."