Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art saw René Magritte’s portrait of patron Edward James, Le Principe du Plaisir (The Principle of Pleasure) (1937), fetch $26.9 million—a new world auction record for the artist.
The portrait of one of the most influential patrons of surrealist art—introduced to Magritte by Salvador Dalí in 1937—well exceeded its highest pre-sale estimate of $20 million, after a bidding battle between seven collectors.
Commissioned by James himself, the work was rendered from a photograph taken by fellow surrealist, Man Ray.
Opening the New York sale on 12 November, 12 fauve, expressionist and modern works from The Triumph of Colour collection sold for a total of $111 million.
The private collection included a trio of works by Wassily Kandisnky, each exceeding $20 million—Improvisation auf Mahagoni (Improvisation on Mahogany) (1910) achieved $24.2 million.
The collection also featured three sensational works by Maurice de Vlaminck, led by his fauve landscape Paysage au Bois Mort (Landscape with Dead Wood) (1906), which fetched $16.7 million.
The collection represents one of the finest examples of post-impressionist and modern art in private hands; several of the paintings were also loaned to the Courtauld Institute of Art in London for over 15 years. There, they served to demonstrate the unique allure of Fauvism, the expressionists and the path to abstraction in the early 20th century.
Further works from the collection are being offered in Sotheby’s Day Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art.
August Uribe, head of Sotheby’s impressionist & modern art department in New York, said: ‘Tonight we witnessed a healthy and intelligent market responding with enthusiasm to a sale unlike any we have assembled in recent memory.
‘The offering was characterized by originality as well as rarity, bringing together the best examples remaining in private hands by artists not typically seen at auction, alongside important works by the leading modernists.
‘Bidding was truly global, evenly split between the U.S., Europe and Asia, which is a combination needed to drive a $300+ million total.’
Also among the evening’s highlights: Egon Schiele’s 1913 townscape, Dämmernde Stadt (Die Kleine Stadt II/City in Twilight/The Small City II), which sold for $24.6 million after six-minute battle between five collectors.
In 1928, Elsa Koditschek—a young Jewish widow living in Vienna, purchased the pivotal work. Following the annexation of Austria in 1938, her persecution by the Nazis caused the work to be forcibly sold in payment of her alleged debts, to the person who helped her to survive. Sotheby’s presented the painting through a private restitution agreement between the present owner and Elsa’s heirs.
From the collection of art-world luminary, Alfred Flechtheim, came a pair of recently restituted works, including Oskar Kokoschka’s portrait of Joseph De Montesquiou-Fezensac (1910). An expressionist masterpiece from Kokoschka’s early portraiture work, the work achieved five times the previous world auction record for the artist, selling at $20.4 million.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Das Soldatenbad (Artillerymen) (1915) also surpassed its high estimate to sell for $22 million.
Following Kirchner’s release from military service, the canvas represents the psychological authenticities of war and explores the anxieties of modernization at the time. The work also serves as an example of the artist’s preoccupation with the human body, and famously resided in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York for three decades. Some of the proceeds are expected to be used for charitable causes, Holocaust remembrance and education purposes.
Inaugural to The Beautiful & Damned, Ludwig Meidner’s harrowing Apokalyptische Landschaft (1912) secured a new world auction record for the artist when it sold for $14.1 million.
The overwhelming urban scene reflects the social, political, emotional and artistic upheaval in Germany at the time and is one of approximately 15 paintings from Meidner’s series of apocalyptic landscapes, executed between 1912 and 1916.
Very few works from this innovative series remain in private hands and important examples that showcase Meidner’s fascination with the formal experiments of both the German expressionists and the Italian futurists, currently inhabit international institutions such as the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, the Saint Louis Art Museum in Missouri and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Julian Dawes, head of Sotheby’s evening sales of impressionist & modern art in New York, said: ‘Every sale has one work that helps to define its look and feel. This season, that was Ludwig Meidner’s arresting Apocalyptic Landscape—a painting that my colleagues have been pursuing for nearly two decades.
‘This spectacular canvas from 1912 became the genesis for The Beautiful & Damned a powerful group of works that together addressed the impact of the First World War on the course of modern art, fittingly on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.
‘Within that theme, we were pleased to see the market react with enthusiasm to daring and sophisticated pictures by Kirchner, Kokoschka and Schiele, each of which was recently restituted to the heirs of collectors later persecuted during World War II.’
With the $315.4 million sale, Sotheby’s worldwide sales of impressionist & modern works reaches $1.1 billion year-to-date in 2018, up 11.4 percent over the same period in 2017.