Picasso flops in New York art sales; Klimt is favourite
Posted online: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 0159 hours IST
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NOV 20:  Pablo Picasso, the auction world’s top-priced artist, was a loser
in this season’s New York sales as buyers opted for Gustav Klimt, who was
more in the news. November impressionist and modern sales raised a record
$847.3 million, said Sotheby’s. Prices for the old standby’s pictures may
have been too high, experts said. Sotheby’s top Picasso, ‘Le Sauvetage’
didn’t sell. It was valued at $12 million-$16 million. At Christie’s,
‘Femmes a la Fontaine’ fetched $12.9 million, below the low end of its
estimate of $15 million-$20 million. No Picasso made the list of the
season’s top 10 highest-priced impressionist and modern pictures, where four
Klimts featured, said a Sotheby’s report released on Friday.

“Picasso still remains the greatest artist of the 20th century, but there
must be quality in individual works,” said London dealer James Roundell.
“The market in the end will distinguish between the good and the bad.”
Meanwhile, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation’s Picasso was withdrawn from a
Christie’s sale amid a legal dispute about ownership. Picasso’s run of bad
luck at the sales could cost the auction houses money, as some sellers were
promised minimum prices for their pictures.

Klimt has been more in the headlines than Picasso in the past year, as
pictures were restored to Nazi victims’ heirs, and as cosmetics magnate
Ronald Lauder paid $135 million for a painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer in a
private deal. The recovered works — two portraits and three landscapes,
previously hung in a Vienna museum, so they were new to the market. That
counts with buyers of earlier 20th-century art, art experts said.

The Austrian-born artist now rivals Spanish-born Picasso in auction prices
for a female portrait.

A 1912 Klimt image of Bloch-Bauer wearing a long dress sold for $87.9
million at Christie’s on November 8. Picasso’s ‘Dora Maar au Chat’ fetched
$95.2 million at Sotheby’s in May. In 2004, Picasso’s 1905 ‘Garcon a la
Pipe’ sold for $104.2 million at Sotheby’s. It remains the most expensive
artwork ever auctioned.

Picasso’s ‘Le Sauvetage,’ a 1932 tableau of a rescue at sea, previously sold
at Sotheby’s in 1993 for $4.4 million. Dealers said it may have seemed
shop-soiled compared with the Klimts. Christie’s most successful Picasso was
a 1944 still life, ‘Plante de Tomate,’ which took $13.5 million, compared
with a top estimate of $7 million. It beat the more highly valued ‘Femmes a
la Fontaine,’ from 1901.

No artist comes close to Picasso, who died in 1973, in the liquidity of the
market for his works. Picasso owners sold 1,646 lots for $155.7 million last
year, said the data service Artprice.com. Pop artist Andy Warhol came next.
Some 730 Warhol lots were auctioned in 2005 for a total of $87.5 million,
said Artprice.

Many sellers were promised minimum prices for their pictures, regardless of
whether they sold or not. Guarantees often are near the low estimate, though
they may be higher, collectors said. Sotheby’s said it guaranteed 24
impressionist and modern lots with a combined low estimate of $93 million
for its evening auction, including ‘Le Sauvetage.’ The guaranteed lots took
in about $84 million, said analyst Kristine Koerber of JMP Securities.