One of the year’s biggest weeks for major auction houses is here. Modern and contemporary art auctions are some of the most vital money-making sales for each house— bringing in high value works from big-name artists and attracting top collectors from across the globe. With artwork hitting the auction block by today’s most recognizable artists, even those who are not involved in the art scene are bound to be intrigued.
Kicking off this week’s auctions is tonight’s Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale. Works will appear by legendary artists such as Joan Miró, Camille Pissaro, André Derain, among other renowned creatives.
One work expected to fetch a handsome sum this evening is Pablo Picasso’s Femme dans un fauteuil (Françoise), painted 1948–1949, that depicts his young lover and mother of two children, Françoise Gilot. The painting is estimated to sell between 12–18 million dollars, but could very well exceed this range.
Fernand Léger’s La femme et l’enfant (below) is likewise a desirable piece for collectors. The provenance can be traced back to the artist with no gaps –interestingly enough, it was confiscated by the Nazis in World War II but was restituted to the rightful owner after 1945 – and it has been widely published and exhibited since it was created almost 100 years ago. This particular piece was part of Léger’s famous female figure paintings from the early 1920s, its counterparts housed in museums and significant private collections.
Tomorrow night, Sotheby’s begins their sales with an Impressionist and Modern art auction that features an incredible mix of artists. Multiple paintings by the surrealist René Magritte are set to be offered, as well as pieces from Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and even one Vincent Van Gogh. This sale’s hard-hitting piece is undoubtedly Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge of 1903, painted from his hotel room overlooking the structure. The work was executed in the artist’s most prolific painting campaign of his career in the London series. During this time, he painted various London scenes, like Parliament, that have grown to be coveted works in his oeuvre.
If you are looking for pieces with estimates below the millions, Bonhams is also hosting an Impressionist and Modern art sale tomorrow night. Estimates begin in the low thousands and reach into the hundred thousands, but there is a greater range in this sale than others in the category (and more lots to choose from). One of the more charming pieces offered in this sale is a watercolor of Florence by Raoul Dufy. The work has provenance from Galerie Marcel Bernheim in Paris and is illustrated in the catalogue raisonné.
Christie’s and Bonhams head the contemporary art auctions on Wednesday, the 13th. Most of the lots offered in Christie’s sale exceed estimates of $1,000,000, providing a game that only high rollers can play. The cover lot, Ed Ruscha’s “Radio” piece, comes from the renowned Californian collection of Joan and Jack Quinn, who acquired it directly from the artist in 1970. This piece is estimated to achieve over $30,000,000— its unbroken provenance and importance in the artist’s career contributing to the hefty price tag.
A tender painting by David Hockney, who holds the record for the highest price achieved at auction for any living artist, will also be offered at the sale. The piece is his last depiction of Peter Schlesinger, his muse and first great love, before their relationship ended. The composition was based on a photo taken when the two were staying at the luxurious Hôtel de la Mamounia in Marrakesh, conveying a level of melancholy and longing that is bound to earn it a meaningful hammer price.
Bonhams’ contemporary and post-war sale features pieces with more modest price tags than its older counterparts, and the list of artists offered does not disappoint. From a portrait of Maria Callas by Vik Muniz to a fine example of one of Louise Nevelson’s Rain Forest Columns, the sale will be an interesting one. An oil painting by one of Cuba’s most famed artists, Wilfredo Lam, is an obvious highlight from the sale. This work was a gift from the artist to his friend in Milan and has maintained its unbroken provenance ever since. Lam is known for his composite style that draws on Afro-Cuban imagery and employs Modernist concepts, earning him a notable level of success on a worldwide scale.
Also, on November 13th, Phillips will hold two 20th century and Contemporary art day sales. The auction house is holding three sales in this category overall, the crowning jewel being the evening auction on November 14th. Among the four major international auction houses, Phillips has a unique advantage in the contemporary art sector as it is one of their only departments, allowing for focused efforts in sourcing material for auction. The evening sale boasts works by hot artists like Tschabalala Self, KAWS, and Yoshitomo Nara alongside classics like Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselman, Sean Scully, and Alex Katz. The most standout work in this auction, however, comes from everyone’s darling Jean-Michel Basquiat. The Ring was completed in 1981, a year that saw unprecedented success for the young artist, and evokes elements recognizable from work executed under his street art name, SAMO. Basquiat has recently had major shows worldwide (this piece included in the Guggenheim Bilbao’s 2015 retrospective), setting his work apart from that of contemporaries and making it desirable to top collectors.
Last but not least is Sothby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, which will take place on November 14th. A myriad of artists from movements like Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art appear in this sale alongside current artists like Kerry James Marshall and Christopher Wool. A work by Mark Rothko with unbroken provenance to the artist will be offered with a presale estimate of $25,000,000 – $35,000,000, as it was created during a pivotal time in his career that solidified his signature abstract style. Of all of the sixteen paintings he made in 1953, ten are housed in museum collections, narrowing the number available and making this lot especially important one.
A painting by his contemporary Willem de Kooning will also hit the block in this sale. This piece is a prime example of his work with abstraction, showing a rich color palette and expressive brushwork. This work has been a part in many important exhibitions and has provenance tracking back to the artist’s estate, making it a safe purchase for interested buyers.
In addition to all of these high caliber evening auctions, the houses will host number of day sales with more attractive prices and a wider range of works – Christie’s will even host a dedicated sale of Modernist works on paper. This week of sales can make or break the auction season, and with such a dense lineup of world-class artwork, one can only speculate on each auction’s outcome. Stay tuned.