Picasso faded from the auction spotlight Tuesday night when a Cubist painting by the artist, expected to bring at least $10 million, failed to sell at Christie’s.
Bidding on Picasso’s “Woman With Mandolin” began at $4 million but faltered around $6 million and ground to a halt at $7 million, less than the undisclosed minimum price set by seller Hester Diamond. Members of the audience, hoping to witness another spectacular sale in a round of record-setting auctions, groaned with disappointment.
A more colorful Cubist canvas, “The Bird Cage,” sold last Thursday at Sotheby’s for $15.4 million, doubling the record for a Picasso. Four days later, the artist’s popular Blue Period painting “Motherhood” soared to $24.75 million at Christie’s, becoming the most expensive 20th-Century artwork ever to sell at auction.
But a third Picasso record was not to be.
“Obviously, it’s a disappointment that the painting didn’t sell,” said Christopher Burge, Christie’s president and chief auctioneer. “It’s a wonderful picture but it may not be the most commercial or the easiest Picasso to live with.”
The relatively somber “Woman With Mandolin,” a prime example of the early, analytical phase of Cubism, was billed as the star attraction of an auction of 63 Impressionist and modern works consigned by various owners.
The auction brought a total of $47.7 million in sales, exceeding Christie’s estimate of $34 million to $46 million, but the Picasso was not the evening’s only failure. Of the 63 lots offered, 15 did not sell.
A bronze “Walking Man” by Alberto Giacometti, expected to bring the sale’s third-highest price of $3 million to $4 million, did not find a buyer. Neither did Henri Matisse’s painting “Deux Fillettes,” valued at $2.2 million to $2.28 million, the fifth-most expensive artwork in the Tuesday night auction.
Christie’s officials had predicted that 18 lots would bring at least $1 million apiece, but only 14 actually reached or surpassed that mark.
The good news for the Park Avenue auction house was that 17 works exceeded their most optimistic estimates and seven paintings set records for individual artists.
Oils by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro commanded prices slightly higher than their high estimates. A flower-filled landscape by Monet, painted in 1880, brought the sale’s top price of $4.7 million. Pissarro’s painting of the St. Jacques Cathedral at Dieppe fetched $3.2 million, more than double the artist’s former record of $1.5 million.
An anonymous New York dealer paid $2.75 million for an Impressionist painting of a young girl in a garden by Pierre Auguste Renoir. Paul Cezanne’s 1879 oil, “Village Behind the Trees, Ile de France,” went to a European dealer for $2.9 million.
The time also seemed to be right for some less prominent painters. A Pointillist interpretation of St. Tropez by Paul Signac, for example, surpassed his record of $922,636 when it sold for $1.5 million. A view of Venice, Italy, by Eugene Boudin sold for $935,000, much higher than his former record of $580,800.
Overall, Impressionist paintings sold better than modern ones, but the lackluster sale echoed disappointing results last Friday at Sotheby’s and revived speculation that the excitement of the art market has shifted from Impressionist to contemporary art.
The Tuesday night sale was the last evening event of a highly publicized series of auctions scheduled to wind up late this afternoon at Christie’s with a sale of 167 Impressionist and modern paintings and sculpture.