Underscoring the Strength of the Art Market

A canvas by Vincent van Gogh fetched $81.3 million in an auction at Christie’s Monday, just short of a record sale price for the artist. The record for a Van Gogh painting was set in 1990 with the $82.5 million sale of “Portrait du Dr. Gachet.”

The 1889 painting, “Laboureur dans un champ,” was sold by the estate of billionaire couple Nancy Lee Bass and Perry R. Bass. It had been estimated to bring in $50 million at Christie’s evening sale of Impressionist and modern art in New York. Rebecca Wei, president of Christie’s Asia, placed the winning bid on behalf of a client. “Laboureur dans un champ” was created during the artist’s one-year stay at the insane asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole.

The Van Gogh led Christie’s $479.3 million sale that surpassed the auction house’s high presale target and posted a 95 percent increase from a similar event a year ago. Asian collectors were active.

Earlier during the Monday sale, Fernand Leger’s 1913 Cubist composition, “Contraste de formes,” fetched $70.1 million, an auction record for the French artist whose previous high was $39.2 million.

Conor Jordan states that the Contraste de formes  series show Léger ‘synthesising a lot of influences’, including Analytical Cubism and Italian Futurism, whose artists had exhibited just a year earlier in Paris. ‘[Léger] went at these paintings as though he was a sculptor,’ says the specialist. ‘This is pure painting seen in its most exciting form, bursting with visual and intellectual ideas,’ adds Jordan. ‘Contraste de formes, among the greatest Léger paintings still in private hands, has a startling intensity.’

Additional artist records set for René Magritte, Jean Crotti, Suzanne Duchamp, Emil Nolde, Man Ray and Edouard Vuillard evince both a broader offering and deeper bidding compared with last year’s equivalent auction. That the sale’s top ten lots were all over $10m “really underscores the strength of the market”, said Jessie Fertig, head of sale. Pablo Picasso’s portrait of his second wife Jacqueline Roque also inspired a bidding war from collectors based in Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and Dubai, Christie’s said.