Hal Wallis' Impressionist Paintings Bring $39.6 Million

Times Art Writer

Eight shimmering Impressionist pictures from the collection of the late film producer Hal B. Wallis sold for $39.6 million Wednesday night in an auction that totalled nearly $173 million in sales of Impressionist and modern art.

An international crowd of art aficionados braved rain and winds to attend Christie's exclusive sale, the last night of a series of big-ticket auctions here. In a little more than two hours the Park Avenue auction house sold 86 works of art--45 of them for more than $1 million apiece--and set records for eight artists.

"Le Parlement, Coucher de Soleil," Claude Monet's glowing depiction of the British Parliament illuminated by a fiery sunset, brought the sale's top price of $14.3 million, more than twice its top estimate of $7 million. An unidentified European collector bought the 1904 oil that Wallis purchased for $215,000 in 1971.

Monet's "Asters," a sparkling painting of a vase of flowers on the edge of a table, also soared past its predicted price of $5 million to $7 million, selling for $9.35 million to a woman in the crowded sale room, later identified as a European private collector.

Stays Within Estimate

"Sur la Scene," Edgar Degas' pastel of a ballerina taking a bow, also valued at $5 million to $7 million, stayed within its estimate and sold for $6.6 million to an anonymous American collector. Wallis paid $180,000 for the drawing in 1959.

"Mother, Sara and the Baby," a charming domestic scene by Mary Cassatt, brought $3.85 million, just above its low estimate of $3.5 million. A river view by Camille Pissarro brought $2.31 million from a telephone bidder--well above its expected price of $1 million to $1.5 million.

The Wallis sale was a bonanza for collectors who can afford to buy such high-quality examples of wildly popular Impressionist works, but the auction was a disappointing loss to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Wallis, who built his collection from 1958 to 1971, was a trustee of the museum for 20 years before his death in 1986.

The Wallis Foundation, which owned the paintings, made an outright gift of a Paul Gauguin canvas to the museum in 1987 and loaned the rest of the artworks under an arrangement that foundation directors called a "permanent loan." Museum supporters had hoped the entire collection would be donated, but it was never legally promised to the museum.

As the Impressionist art market escalated, foundation officials decided that the paintings should be sold to benefit medical and conservation causes supported by the foundation. The Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage is a major recipient of foundation support, according to Brent Wallis, the late collector's son.

The Wallis sale was the opening event of the Wednesday evening auction, which far exceeded Christie's most optimistic forecast.

"La Loge," Pierre-Auguste Renoir's tiny (10 1/4-inch-by-8 5/8-inch) painting of a couple in an opera box stunned the audience when it sold for $12.1 million--far beyond its estimate of $2.5 million to $3.5 million and the second highest price in the sale.

Upstaged by Picasso

"Farm in Brittany," an 1894 work by Gauguin that treats rural France to a tropical color scheme, was expected to bring the sale's top price, but it sold for $6.82 million, just below its low estimate of $7 million. Gauguin's 1892 Tahitian landscape, "Mata Mua," set a record of $24.2 million for the artist Tuesday night at Sotheby's, but was upstaged by a $47.85-million Pablo Picasso self-portrait.

The Gauguin in Christie's Wednesday night auction was the most expensive of 17 landscapes from the collection of Dain and Daniel Crow Searle, a great-grandson of Gideon Daniel Searle, the founder of G. D. Searle & Co. pharmaceutical firm. The 17 paintings brought a total of $34.28 million, exceeding the high estimate of $30 million.

Several paintings in the Searle collection commanded larger than anticipated prices. A rooftop view of a village by Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele brought $5.94 million, well above its high estimate $3.5 million and a record for the artist.

This week's marathon of Impressionist and modern art sales will wind up today at Christie's with an auction of about 160 paintings and sculptures, valued at $16 million to $22 million, and about 130 watercolors and drawings, expected to bring between $11 million and $15 million. When those figures are added to Tuesday's and Wednesday's sales of Impressionist and modern art, the total will probably exceed $450 million.

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