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Christie's Impressionist Sale Falls Short; 44% Fails to Sell!Views: 548
Nov 10, 2008 2:42 pmChristie's Impressionist Sale Falls Short; 44% Fails to Sell!#

Jasmine Jehengir
Christie's Impressionist Sale Falls Short; 44% Fails to Sell...

By Lindsay Pollock and Philip Boroff

Nov. 7 (Bloomberg) -- French billionaire Francois Pinault attended his company Christie's International's New York auction of impressionist and modern art last night, and watched from a sky box as almost half the lots failed to sell.

Buyers passed on 44 percent of the 82 pieces offered. Sales tallied $146.7 million, against the low estimate of $240.7 million. It's the week's third evening auction that missed estimates and a sign the global financial crisis continues to undermine demand for the most-expensive art.

``Obviously, prices have changed,'' said auctioneer Christopher Burge, after the sale. ``We'd be foolish not to recognize that.''

As Pinault looked on, former Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner sat in the front row and witnessed bidders pass on second-and third-rate works that might easily have been snapped up in past seasons.

Works by Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Alexander Archipenko found little or no interest. Collectors felt no urgency to vie for anything less than stellar, especially at prices that seemed suddenly steep, dealers said.

``Before, people were willing to overpay,'' said dealer Christophe Van de Weghe. ``Not anymore.''

A disappointing sale the previous night at Christie's set the stage for last night's low expectations. On Nov. 5, artworks of Park Avenue widow Rita Hillman and real estate heiress Alice Lawrence fetched $47 million, less than half the low estimate of $103 million. On Nov. 3, Sotheby's impressionist sale tallied $223.8 million, a third below the $338 million low estimate.

Sagging Prices

Nonetheless, sagging prices enticed Phoenix real estate developer Lee Hanley to buy an 1882 landscape by Claude Monet. With his wife, Nancy, he paid $1.7 million. The presale low estimate was $1.8 million.

Henley said the top lots were still expensive, though the remainder are about 20 percent cheaper than previous years, enticing enough for him to buy.

Christie's did sell some of the priciest lots, including a record for cubist Juan Gris.

The evening's biggest prize was Gris's green 1915 cubist still-life, ``Livre, pipe et verres,'' estimated to sell for more than $12.5 million. New York private dealer Franck Giraud bought it for $20.8 million. The artist's previous record was $18.5 million for a lilac-colored ``Le pot de geranium,'' set at Christie's in New York in May 2007.

Pablo Picasso's 1934 pastel-hued ``Deux personages (Marie- Therese et sa soeur lisant),'' inspired by the artist's blond mistress, was expected to be the top lot with a presale $25 million high estimate. Instead the painting had one suitor and sold for $18 million.

Striding Males

A rare 1950 Alberto Giacometti bronze sculpture of three striding males, ``Trois Hommes qui marchent I,'' was estimated up to $18 million and sold for just $11.5 million. The anonymous seller had paid $5.7 million for it at Sotheby's in 1999.

The cover lot, Wassily Kandinsky's 1909 vibrantly colored expressionist ``Studie zu Improvisation 3,'' with a man in a cape riding a blue horse, fetched $16.8 million, above the $15 million low estimate. There was one bidder.

Christie's is privately held. Prices include a buyer's premium, or commission, of 25 percent of the hammer price up to $50,000, 20 percent of the price from $50,000 to $1 million, and 12 percent above $1 million. Estimates don't include commissions.

Next week, Sotheby's, Christie's and Philips du Pury & Co. hold their contemporary-art auctions.


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