Sotheby's £105m auction banishes bad memories of the 1990s art market crash

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The Independent Online

Works by artists including Henry Moore, Paul Gauguin and Amedeo Modigliani helped an auction reach the highest total for an impressionist and modern art sale since 1990, it emerged yesterday.

The sale of 48 paintings and sculptures at the Sotheby's auction in New York on Thursday, took in $194,289,600 (£104,788,369) - the highest for an Impressionist and modern art auction since May 1990 shortly before the art market crashed at the end of that year. However, 13 of the 61 lots did not attract bids above the minimum reserve price, which were set before the sale.

Auction officials said they were thrilled with the result, despite its falling short of the pre-sale low estimate of $203.5m. The high sales total had been estimated at $275.6m.

David Norman, co-chairman of the company's Impressionist and Modern Art department, said: "We broke a lot of records and there were a number of failures."

The highlight, as expected, was Paul Gauguin's vibrant 1899 oil-on-canvas Maternite (II), which fetched $39,208,000 setting a new record for a Gauguin. It was short of the conservative estimate of $40m but still, it smashed the old mark of $24.2m.

Modigliani's monumental portrait of his great love and muse, Jeanne Hebuterne (devant une porte), also set an artist record, soaring to $31,368,000 and easily eclipsing the old mark of $26,887,500 set last year. The portrait, painted in 1919, had been estimated to sell for $20m to $30m.

Henry Moore's 142 -foot-long Three-Piece Reclining Figure: Draped, went for a record $8.4m, more than double Sotheby's low estimate. Specialists at the auction house said outdoor sculpture prices have soared in recent years.

The price for Piet Mondrian's New York/ Boogie Woogie more than doubled the French modernist's previous high sale, fetching $21m.

Unsold works included paintings by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Wassily Kandinksy's Skizze Fur Sintflut II (Sketch for Deluge). Bidding for the Kandinsky started at $15m, ending at $17.5m. Sotheby's had assigned a low estimate of $20m, and offered the seller an undisclosed guarantee.

Charles Moffett, co-chairman of Sotheby's Worldwide Impressionist department, said: "For a month we thought that Kandinsky would fly. What happened I simply cannot explain."

The four Picassos, which were sold, did well, with both L'Aubade and Femme Nue Assise dans un Fauteuil going for about $5m, double their low estimates.

All prices included a 20 per cent buyer's premium for the first $100,000, and 12 per cent on the balance.

Sotheby's and its rival auction house Christie's will both hold their contemporary and post-war auctions on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A painting of London's Houses of Parliament by Claude Monet sold for $20m as part of the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale at Christie's earlier this week. The sale, which also included works by Joan Miro and Vincent van Gogh, fetched a total of around $128.2m.

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