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Stolen $40 Million Klimt Helps Art Auction Rebound at Sotheby’s

Blog by Julie Dempsey | November 7th, 2011

From Bloomberg.com website Click here to read the story on their website.

A $40.4 million Gustav Klimt painting underpinned a rebound in art auctions last night as Sotheby’s (BID) sold $200 million of Impressionist and modern works in New York, beating a sale the previous day by Christie’s International.

More than 81 percent of Sotheby’s lots sold, compared with 62 percent at Christie’s $140.8 million auction, where most of the star items flopped. David Norman, co-chair of Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern department, said the auction house lowered reserves, or minimum sale prices, after the Christie’s event, which followed a slump in the stock market.

“The art market is really not predictable,” said Daniella Luxembourg, a dealer in New York and London. “It’s influenced by the nervousness about the financial markets and the political instability around the world.”

Christie’s Nov. 1 sale missed its low estimate after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 5.2 percent in two days. The index rose 1.6 percent yesterday before Sotheby’s auction.

“If ever there was a turnaround, I think it happened tonight,” Sotheby’s auctioneer, Tobias Meyer, said after the two-hour-plus sale.

The top lot, Klimt’s “Litzlberg am Attersee,” was stolen by the Nazis from its Jewish owner and recently returned to the woman’s grandson. The 1915 work depicts verdant hills above the lake of the title in western Austria.

Earlier this year, the Museum of Modern Art in Salzburg, Austria, returned the work to Georges Jorisch, grandson of Amalie Redlich, who owned it until she was deported to Lodz, a Polish town with a large Jewish ghetto, and never heard from again. The Gestapo sold off her collection.

‘A Masterpiece’

“It’s a masterpiece and in perfect condition,” said David Lachenmann, the 42-year-old, gum-chewing Zurich dealer who bought the 1915 painting for a client he wouldn’t identify. Jorisch, 83 and frail, watched the painting’s sale from the auction room. Asked how he felt about the result, he said, “Good.”

An 1883 landscape by Gustave Caillebotte surged past its presale high estimate of $12 million to fetch $18 million, an auction record for the artist. The painting, depicting a bridge over the Seine, was bought in 2008 for $8.5 million at Christie’s in New York. Tamara de Lempicka’s 1927 portrait of a voluptuous brunette with bedroom eyes fetched $8.5 million, an auction record for the artist.

Last night’s total might have been higher had it included an Henri Matisse bronze, estimated at $20 million to $30 million, that was consigned by the Burnett Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas. The statue was withdrawn from the auction after being sold on Nov. 1 as part of a quartet of Matisse bronzes in a private transaction brokered by Sotheby’s. The auction house declined to disclose the identity of the buyer or the purchase price.

Picasso Nude

A 1967 painting by Pablo Picasso sold to a telephone bidder last night for $23 million, against an estimated range of $18 million to $25 million.

Painted when Picasso was 85, “L’Aubade,” depicts a gaunt naked man playing a flute for a nude woman reclining nearby and looking directly at the viewer. The figures are set against a powder-blue background, with the man’s toes, ribs and hair graphically outlined. The almond-eyed female was inspired by Picasso’s second wife, Jacqueline Roque.

Bidders for the canvas included art dealers David Nahmad and Larry Gagosian, who held a retrospective of Picasso’s late works in 2009. The painting last appeared at auction in 1979, fetching 49,000 pounds ($75,401) at Sotheby’s in London. Yesterday’s result represents a new high for Picasso’s prolific last decade.

Street Protest

Collectors and dealers attending the auction at the company’s York Avenue headquarters were greeted by dozens of art handlers and protesters from Occupy Wall Street who blew whistles, banged drums and shouted “shame!” The noise of the crowd was audible in the seventh-floor sales room.

On July 29, Sotheby’s locked out 42 unionized handlers after “the union made statements to the media threatening a strike,” Sotheby’s said in an August filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“I don’t think anyone thinks this is any fun,” Sotheby’s Chief Executive William Ruprecht said in an interview after last night’s sale. “We’d love to conclude this in a way that’s equitable for everyone.”

On Nov. 1, Christie’s had its lowest sales total in two years for Impressionist and modern art in New York as buyers shunned top lots including an Edgar Degas bronze of a teenage ballerina that was estimated to fetch as much as $35 million.

Sotheby’s charges buyers 25 percent of the hammer price up to $50,000, plus 20 percent from $50,000 to $1 million, and 12 percent above $1 million. Pre-sale estimates don’t include the buyer’s premium.

To contact the reporters on this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at kkazakina@bloomberg.net; Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.