Sotheby’s Auctions of Modern and Contemporary Art Yield $284M

After some pre-sale chaos, Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art and Contemporary Art sales yielded $284 million. Here are the highlights.

Oct 29, 2020By Charlotte Davis, BA Art History
Black Widow by Man Ray, 1915; with Il Pomeriggo di Arianna (Ardiadne’s Afternoon) by Giorgio de Chirico, 1913; and Fleurs dans un verre by Vincent van Gogh, 1890, via Sotheby’s


Last night, just before the Sotheby’s auctions of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art halted its anticipated and controversial $65 million deaccessions of works by Brice Marden and Clyfford Still. It also paused the private sale of Last Supper by Andy Warhol. Nevertheless, the two evening sales brought in $284 million in sales with fees (final prices include buyer’s fees whereas estimates pre-sale do not), realizing a 97% rate of sale. 


In addition to the Baltimore Museum of Art’s announcement, there was other pre-sale excitement. Two of the most expensive lots in the auction, both by Alberto Giacometti, were sold before the bidding opened at a private sale. The first was Grand Femme I (1960), a nine-foot-tall sculpture with a minimum bid of $90 million. The other was sculpture Femme de Venise IV (1956), which was estimated between $14-18 million. Neither of the final prices for the pre-sale pieces were disclosed.


Contemporary Art Auction 


Alfa Romero B.A.T. 5, Alfa Romero B.A.T. 7 and Alfa Romero B.A.T. 9D, 1953-55, via Sotheby’s


Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, led by innovative mid-20th-century designs by Italian masters, brought in $142.8 million with fees across 39 lots. The sale’s top lot was a triad of 1950s Alfa Romero cars, B.A.T. 5, B.A.T. 7 and B.A.T. 9D, which sold collectively for $14.8 million with fees after being estimated at $14-20 million, making history for Contemporary Art Evening sales. Each of the automobiles on its own rank among the most important ever built. They pioneered 1950s aerodynamic design while maintaining the style and comfort of Italian design. 


With the current flexibility on deaccessioning rules, museums and buyers are taking advantage of their ability to trade items on the art market. One of these was Important and Unique Dining Table by Italian designer and architect Carlo Mollino, deaccessioned by the Brooklyn Museum. It sold for $6.2 million, doubling its estimate of $2-3 million. Another deaccessioned work from The Palm Springs Art Museum, Helen Frankenthaler’s Carousel (1979) sold for $4.7 million against a $2.5-3.5 million estimate. 

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One of the sale’s top forecasted lots, Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Maroon; 1958), did not sell. It was estimated at $25-35 million. 

Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Auction


Femme Leoni by Alberto Giacometti, 1947/58, via Sotheby’s


The Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale totaled $141.1 million with fees over 38 lots. It was led by top lot Femme Leoni by Alberto Giacometti (1947/58) which sold for $25.9 million after being estimated at $20-30 million. Coming from a private collection, the bronze statue is one of Giacometti’s first tall, slender female statues that, alongside L’Homme qui Marche, have come to characterize the artist’s postwar art style. 


Vincent van Gogh’s painting Fleurs dans un verre (1890) was another highlight of the sale, selling at $16 million after its estimation of $14-18 million. Additionally, René Magritte’s L’ovation (1962) sold for $14.1 after its $12-18 million estimate. 


Other modernism highlights from the sale include Il Pomeriggo di Arianna (Ardiadne’s Afternoon; 1913) by Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico, which sold for $15.9 million after being estimated at $10-15 million. From the same private collection, Black Widow (1915) by American artist Man Ray sold for $5.8 million and was estimated at $5-7 million. 


Sotheby’s Chairman, Americas Lisa Dennison, stated, “Both masterpieces are the epitome of museum-quality paintings, and provide a unique glimpse into the profound early output of these two visionary artists…Each work showcases the hallmarks of the artist, from the beguiling and enigmatic vistas of de Chirico to Man Ray’s experimentation with perspective and abstraction. Together, the works encapsulate the apes of Modernism in Europe and New York.”

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By Charlotte DavisBA Art HistoryCharlotte is a contributing writer from Portland, Oregon now based in London, England. I’m an art historian with extensive knowledge in art history, classics, ancient art and archaeology.