The Art Market: Rockefeller Sales

  • June 06, 2018 11:50

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The Art Market

By: Howard Rehs & Lance Rehs



Part I of the Rockefeller Sale


On May 8th, Christie’s New York (located in Rockefeller Center) held part 1 of their highly anticipated sale of the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller. Billed as “the sale of the century,” more than 1,500 lots are to be offered including the 44 star lots from last evening. It probably should be noted that all 44 works carried a guarantee from Christie’s… Christie’s was only able to secure the sale over their rival Sotheby’s by guaranteeing a minimum total of $650M to the Rockefeller estate (the $650M is a guarantee on all 1,500+ lots, not just the 44 from last night). Coverage of the sale was a bit mixed, but from what I saw (in the live feed), there was healthy action… the only comment I could make would be at times bidding slowed during some lots, but the prices achieved were pretty solid – I mean, it took more than 12 minutes for the Monet (featured on the catalog cover) to sell… at one point they were taking $500K increments in the low 60s, but the pace picked back up… it hammered at $75 million!


In any case, let’s get down to it… the top lot of the evening was a work by Picasso from his Rose Period (1904-1906). The work, Fillette a la Corbeilee Fleurie, depicting a nude figure holding a basket of roses, was originally owned by Gertrude Stein and was then acquired by Rockefeller in 1968 for just under $1 million. This time around, Christie’s expected the work to sell in excess of $90M, and it certainly did… bidding topped out at $102M plus premiums, which added a substantial $13M to the price tag – bringing the final price to $115M.


The aforementioned Monet, Nympheas en fleur, was good for second on the evening. The vibrant canvas was purchased by Rockefeller from Parisian dealer Katia Granoff in 1956 and hung in the stairwell of one of his homes. The work was expected to sell “in the region” of $50M and far surpassed the mark… as I stated earlier, it made $75M but with the premium, that bumped the price to $84.6M which actually set a new auction record for the artist – the previous record was set at $81.4M in 2016.


Rounding out the top three was Matisse’s Odalisque couchee aux magnolias; the work hung in the library of their Manhattan residence adjacent to the $115M Picasso. Prior to last night, the record for Matisse’s work at auction was held by Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose which was part of the Yves Saint Laurent collection sale in 2009 – that work had sold for €35.9 ($46.4M) on an estimate of €12-18M… Rockefeller’s Matisse garnered a significantly more elevated estimate of $50-70M and hammered down just above that at $71.5M ($80.8M with premiums), which obviously set a new record for the artist’s work at auction.


While the sale was essentially all “highlights,” there were a handful of other remaining lots that shined a bit brighter than the rest… Most impressively, two works by Gauguin shattered their estimates – Fleurs dans un vase was expected to sell between $5-7M and found a buyer at $19.4M while La Vague, expected to sell for just $7-10M ended up realizing 31M! Lot number 2 in the sale was Juan Gris’s La table de musician, which topped it’s $18-25M estimate at $31.8M.


On the other hand, there were a few “underperforming” lots… Now, everybody laugh with me as I tell you a $33M Monet underperformed – it was expected at $40-60M. Other underperformers included works by Signac, which realized $13.8M on a $15-25M estimate and Bonnard, which found a buyer at $6.6M on a $10-15M estimate.


Unsurprisingly (as the entire sale was guaranteed), all 44 lots were sold and they more than made up for those “underperforming” lots… presale expectations were in the region of $490M for the entire sale and they easily exceeded that as the sale brought in $646M! Looks like the Rockefeller collection has a serious chance of hitting the $1 billion milestone.



The Americans … We Are Now At $765M And Still Going!


Part two of the Rockefeller sale took place on May 9th, and while nearly incomparable to the night prior (part 1), there were still many incredible works up for grabs and some impressive results in the end. Part two featured an offering of 19th and 20th-century American paintings (and one sculpture)…


The top lot here was Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XIX – a work completed in 1982, towards the end of his painting career (de Kooning’s last painting was completed in 1991, and he passed away in 1997 at age 92). The work attracted a number of bidders and saw the price climb to $12.4M ($14.2 with premium) after more than 10 minutes of bidding – the work was only expected to bring between $6-8M.


Not far behind was the most impressive performing lot of the night… a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. The work was painted in 1795 and is regarded as the earliest of three important portraits depicting the first President, George Washington (Vaughan type) – the work found a buyer at $10 million… with the premium, that bumps the price up to more than $11.5M – a remarkable result for a work estimated at just $800K-1.2M, and a record for the artist. The last time a portrait of Washington (Vaughan type) by Stuart was in 2017… the work made just $1.33M on a $1.5-2.5M estimate.


Rounding out the top three was a work by Diego Rivera – the painting, commissioned by David Rockefeller’s mother Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was a wedding present to her son and new wife Peggy. The work, featuring a traditional festival scene, hung in the living room of their Maine home for decades before being offered for sale… it realized a price of $8.4M ($9.7M with premium – another auction record), surpassing the $5-7M estimate.


Most of the works here made fairly strong prices and a few of them really outperformed their expected result… that included a Sargent, selling for more than $9M on a $3-5M estimate; two paintings by Jamie Wyeth which both more than doubled the high end of the estimate range; and a Thomas Moran which nearly tripled the high end of its estimate range. On the flip side, there were a couple of duds (but they still sold)… a small watercolor by Charles Demuth found a buyer at just $75K on a $150-250K estimate, and a Robert Walter Weir only made $200K on a $400-600K estimate.


All 41 works offered found buyers and the evening brought in another $106.8M, adding to the already impressive figure from the night before – in all, the Rockefeller sales, to that point, have totaled more than $765M… and there was more to come!


Rockefeller – Another Great Buy And Hold Story


The Rockefeller series of sales are over, and the results were STRONG … even though they did not hit the $1 billion whisper number. But can anyone really complain about a sale of household contents that made over $832 million? If you are complaining, get a life! We watched some of the sales and were continuously amazed at the prices achieved for items that some would say are nothing special. Now here is the most important part, the Rockefeller’s bought all the pieces to live with and decorate their homes. They were not buying for investment purposes, just for the joy of owning, using and looking at them. What this collection beautifully illustrates is the power of a buy and hold … even if your taste runs to the more traditional and you like ‘brown’ furniture.


Lance covered the two main evening art auctions in previous posts, and those results were robust. The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: 19th and 20th Century Art totaled $646M, while The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: Art of the Americas added $106.8M.


Thursday, May 10th, there were three scheduled sales. The first, featuring the ‘less expensive’ works of art, rocked. To give you an idea of how impressive things were, here are a few results. Henry Moore’s Oval Sculpture (purchased in 1967) was estimated to bring $300-$500K and sold for $3.97M, Redon’s La barque aux deux femmes blanches carried a $500-$700K estimate and brought $3.13M (acquired in 1954), and Camille Pissarro’s Félix Pissarro lisant (acquired in 1952) brought $3M on a $900-$1.2M estimate. In fact, many of the works left their estimates in the dust like Maurice de Vlaminck’s Deux mats devant la côte (1925), a 15.5 x 18.5 inch work on paper, that carried a $30-50K estimate and sold for $312K; Bernard Buffet’s Mouche (an 11.5 x 14.5 inch painting of a fly from 1952), also estimated at $30-50K and sold for $194K; and Dale Chihuly’s A Venetian Vase (1989) which brought $52.5K on a $6-8K estimate. By the end of that session, another $43 million was added to the tally … the low end of the estimate range was a measly $21M.


A selection of English & European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations followed the art sale … you know, all that ‘brown furniture’ that nobody wants … HA HA! Item, after item, sold very well … and some made terrific prices. A set of six George III Yew and Elm Armchairs (brown furniture) made $337K (est. $50-80K). An English inlaid side table (also brown) was expected to sell between $5-8K and made a whopping $300K; and a pair of George II armchairs (oh, I think they were brown as well) shot past their $15-25K estimate to sell for $194K. In the end, another $7.97M was deposited in the coffers. What was most interesting about this sale is that there was so much bidding (a lot of it pretty slow) that it did not end until after 9 pm! Now you might think ok, it ran a little late; however, the Travel and Americana sale (with more than 180 lots) was scheduled to start at 7 pm. That did not happen until about 9:30 pm … and I wanted to watch some of the items in that sale.


Here again, prices for many items were through the roof. A rare Anhua-Decorated Blue and White Dragon Bowl carried a $100-150K estimate and sold for $2.77M; a standard Antonio Jacobsen ship portrait from 1895 made $27.5K on a $7-10K estimate; a Whistling Swan decoy by John Haynes Williams brought $349K (est. $100-150K); and a Ming-Style Huali Hexagonal Chair from the 20th century (let me stress 20th century) hit $38K on a $1-1.5K estimate. By 11:30 pm there were about half-way through and I signed off … time for me to go to sleep! But there must have been a lot of determined buyers since all the lots sold and added an additional $11.6M to the kitty.


With the help of a global guarantee of $650M, they had a white glove sale (100% sold) … cannot get any better than that! What is going to be really interesting is to see what some of these items (with over-the-top results) bring when they return to the market. I have a feeling that some people are not going to be very happy.


Keep in mind that not all of Rockefeller’s collection hit the auction block, a lot was donated. In April, Forbes ran Inside Late Billionaire David Rockefeller’s Will: Picassos, A Beetle Collection And A Maine Island.  It shows that had all of his personal items come up for sale, the $1 Billion whisper number would not have been a whisper, it would have been a reality. His art collection consisted of some 4500 works and among the recipients of his generosity were:


Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: Vlaminck’s Paysage de Banlieu

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.: Pissarro’s Landscape Near Pontoise

Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine: Wyeth’s River Cove

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Manet’s La Brioche

Pierpont Morgan Library, New York: Schongauer’s Death of the Virgin

MOMA received a huge trove:

Bonnard’s The Promenade

Braque’s The Large Trees, l’Estaque (1907)

Cezanne’s Boy in a Red Vest, La Montagne Saint Victoire and Still Life with Fruit Dish

Derain’s Charing Cross Bridge

Dufy’s Le 14 Juillet au Havre

Gauguin’s Portrait of Meyer de Haan

Matisse’s Interior with a Young Girl (1905-1906)

Picasso’s Le Coq (1938), Woman and Dog under a Tree and The Reservoir, Horta de Ebro (1909)

Signac’s Opus 217 … Portrait of M. Felix Feneon in 1890.


It is nice to see that these works will now be available for all to see and enjoy!


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