Sotheby’s, however, has only one guaranteed lot in its May 5 evening sale, a Picasso portrait from 1965 (est $8m-$12m) that bears the “irrevocable bid” symbol. The reappearance of guarantees – on which both auction houses lost heavily during the 2008 recession – is a sign of renewed confidence in the art market.
|‘Le doute’ by Felix Youssoupoff|
At Phillips de Pury in London, the Russian segment of the Bric sale raised £2.3m ($3.5m), almost in line with its target of £2.2m (presale estimates don’t include premium; results do) although only 46 per cent of the lots found buyers. But some good prices were set; top lot was Eric Bulatov’s “Entrance-No Entrance” (1994-95), which made £715,250 (est. £350,000-£450,000), while a satire of Russian official art, “Meeting between Solzhenitsyn and Böll at Rostropovich’s Country House’’ (1972) by Russian duo Komar & Melamid, raced away at £657,250, well over its £100,000-£150,000 estimate.
One of the biggest art scandals of recent years concerns the dealer Lawrence Salander, who last month pleaded guilty to stealing some $120m from customers and investors. New York has been transfixed by the Salander story: how the high-flying dealer, operating from an Italianate palace in Manhattan, once claimed he could “corner the market in Renaissance art” but left a trail of victims, including tennis champion John McEnroe, after his gallery filed for bankruptcy in 2007. Salander, 60, is facing up to 18 years in prison.
Many works of art are still held by the bankruptcy court and will be sold at some future date; the art advisers Gurr Johns are handling the deal, which is believed to be going to Christie’s; both firms declined to comment. Meanwhile Stair Galleries of New York is selling ornate and eclectic items from Salandar’s Manhattan townhouse next Sunday: 244 lots of furniture (such as an Italian walnut credenza at $400-$800), Rococo-style chandeliers, Chinese porcelain vases and a carved sandstone Buddha head ($500-$700).
“We have kept our estimates very low,” says president Colin Stair, “And we’re expecting a tremendous amount of interest. Bankruptcy auctions are like blood in the water.” Viewing continues this week and the whole group is estimated at up to $200,000.
Volcanic ash prevented London dealer Johnny van Haeften from getting to the Dorotheum, in Vienna, for its Old Master paintings sale, but not from buying Frans Francken II’s “Man Choosing between Virtue and Vice”. Estimated at just €400,000-€500,000, the opulent early 17th-century work shows the human soul on its journey to heaven – or hell. “I didn’t even start bidding on the telephone until it got to €2m, and there were lots of people against me, German and Russian I think, plus two of my own clients,” says Van Haeften. He paid more than €7m for the painting, which he still hasn’t seen. “But colleagues have vouched for it,” he says. The price sets a new record for the artist and any Old Master sold in Austria.