2010 Auction Highlights: 30 Notable Lots

Exceptional beauty, rarity, and historical significance are among the factors that drive collectors to compete furiously for art, antiques and collectibles at auction. Sentimental value and investment purposes motivate some buyers. Deep in the throes of a global recession, the world's wealthiest collectors sent segments of the auction market to astounding record price levels in 2010.

Works by modern masters marched above the $100 million mark. First, Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti's "Walking Man I' strutted over $104 million before being usurped by Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” which sold at Christie's in May for $106.5 million, making it the most expensive artwork ever auctioned.

Numerous artists achieved auction records, and multiple categories soundly broke previous records, among them, 20th-century art, rare books, diamonds, wine, Australian art, English furniture, New York furniture, and Chinese works of art.

Newly wealthy Chinese are spurring some of this growth as they seek to repatriate their own art and cultivate new tastes for French wine, modern masters, and blue chip contemporary art. Imperial treasures were snapped up by Chinese collectors including a Qing vase which fetched HK$251 million (US$32.4 million) in a $400 million series of sales held by Sotheby's in Hong Kong. Also of note, a 12-bottle case of Chateau Lafite 1982 vintage went for a steep HK$1 million (US$131,859).

A few institutions made noteworthy purchases, such as the Getty Museum's $45 million winning bid for a J.M.W. Turner landscape. (The painting has not been given an export license yet to move from London to Los Angeles.)

Rare pieces brought on memorable bidding battles. For one, a 33-inch Roman Imperial marble bust of Antinous, c. AD 130-138, the only known sculpted image of Antinous identified with an inscription, sold for $23.8 million, ten times the estimate, after an 11-minute fight for its ownership at Sotheby's.

While annual figures are still being tallied at auction houses worldwide, the year's totals may well be record-breaking. Christie's International has already reported 3.2 billion pounds ($5 billion) of art and other collectibles sold in 2010, a record amount that surpasses the firm's previous high of 3.1 billion pounds for 2007.

View 2010 auction highlights in ARTFIXdaily's slideshow below. (Prices quoted include buyer's premiums.)

 

 

A first edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America sold at Sotheby's in London for $11.5 million, a world record for a printed book. Picasso's 1932 painting "Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust) brought $106.5 million at Christie's in May, making it the world's most expensive artwork sold at auction. London-based billionaire Lily Safra reportedly was the buyer of the iconic bronze "Walking Man I" by Alberto Giacometti for $104.3 million  at Sotheby’s in London. Forbes reported that hedge fund manager Steve Cohen privately bought a Johns "Flag" for $110 million. The 24.78-carat, VVS2, fancy intense pink diamond of the purest, most vibrant hue that dealer Laurence Graff paid $46,158,674 (CHF 45,442,500) for at Sotheby's.  Andy Warhol's 1962 Men in Her Life, an 84½-by-83¼-inch silkscreen and pencil on canvas, is based on a photograph of a young Elizabeth Taylor with her third husband, the movie mogul Michael Todd; and her next husband, pop singer Eddie Fisher, with his then wife, actress Debbie Reynolds.  The work, estimated at about $40 million, sold for over $63 million at Phillips de Pury on Nov.  8. Edmund Tarbell's 1899 oil painting titled Child and Boat at Sotheby's surpassed its estimate of $2,000,000-3,000,000 to fetch an artist auction record of $4.2 million. An important George III gilt-lacquered brass mounted fustic, rosewood, tulipwood and marquetry commode, almost certainly by Thomas Chippendale, circa 1770, sold for £3,793,250 ($5,980,438) at Sotheby's. At a Bainbridge's auction, in West London, an 18th century Imperial Chinese vase sold for 51.6 million pounds ($83.2 million)—an auction record for Chinese works of art. Recently, dealer James Lally told CNBC that he's "very skeptical" of the piece. A rare first edition of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice sold for a world record price of £139,250 at auctioneers Sotheby’s in London in October. Three bottles of Chateau Lafite’s 1869 vintage each sold for a world record price of HK$1.8 million ($230,000) at a sold-out Sotheby's wine sale in Hong Kong. In New York, the original cover art for the children's classic Charlotte's Web catapulted to $155,000, from a $30,000 estimate, at a Heritage Auctions sale. A blue and white porcelain dragon jar, Qianlong mark, late Qing/Republic Period, which catapulted to an astounding $7.7 million from an estimate of $10,000-15,000 at Bonhams in San Francisco. The only known remaining flag from Custer's last stand at the Battle of the Bighorn sold for $2.2 million at Sotheby's. Stoneware Stack Pot by Peter Voulkos (1924-2002, USA), titled Gash, sold for a world record for the artist’s ceramics at $105,750 at the inaugural Cowans + Clark + DelVecchio Modern and Contemporary Ceramics auction in Chicago. ROY LICHTENSTEIN's 1964 painting Ohhh...Alright...  exceeded its presale estimate of $40 million to fetch a record $42.6 million at Christie's Nov.  10 sale. A record price for New York furniture was set at Leigh Keno's inaugural auction in May. The James Beekman Chippendale carved mahogany chest of drawers, circa 1752, sold for $1.4 million. "The Finding of Moses," a 19th century masterpiece by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, sold for a remarkable $35,922,500, more than seven times its high estimate, at Sotheby's in November. A Kirman carpet, once owned by a French countess, achieved the auction record for a rug at £6.2m, about $9.5 million, at Christie's in April. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles won J.M.W. Turner's ethereal final painting of Rome, “Modern Rome — Campo Vaccino” (1839) for $44.9 million at a Sotheby's sale in London. The export license for the painting has not been issued. A striking oil painting by sporting artist Ogden M. Pleissner (1905-1983), titled The Rapids, went for $345,000, leaving its $60,000-$90,000 estimate far behind, at Copley's summer auction in Massachusetts. Christie's International In April, a letter from a first-class passenger on board the ill-fated Titanic sold for £55,000, a record price for a piece of written correspondence from the ship, at Henry Aldridge and Son auctioneers in the U.K.
Amedeo Modigliani's (Italian, 1884-1920) limestone sculpture of an elongated head with almond-shaped eyes, titled Tête, sold for more than $50 million at a Christie's auction in Paris, an artist auction record and a record price for art sold in France. A Sidney Nolan painting of infamous bush outlaw Ned Kelly, titled "First-Class Marksman," sold for $5.4 million, making it the most expensive Australian artwork ever sold at auction. (Menzies Arts Brands in Sydney.) A rare, WWII-era Patek Philippe sold for the equivalent of $5.7 million, the highest price paid for a yellow-gold wristwatch at auction. The 18-karat gold chronograph was sold by Christie's in Geneva. At Bonhams, a world auction record for an Edward Ruscha print was set when the artist's Standard Station sold for $170,000. A 50 case ‘superlot’ of all five First Growth Bordeaux spanning the years 1995-2004 which sold for $320,000 (est. $200,000-300,000) at Skinner, Inc. in Boston. This hammered copper and silver candelabrum, 1906-08, by Dard Hunter (est. $20,000-30,000)more than doubled its low estimate to fetch $51,850 at a Rago's auction in Lambertville, NJ. A hand-written draft chapter from Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad sold for $79,300 against a presale estimate of $30,000-50,000 at Chicago's Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in November.

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