Picasso, Monet and… Ferrari? New York auction houses eye monster sales

By Nicolas REVISE

A $120 million Picasso, a $40 million Monet and even a $60 million Ferrari: New York’s major auction houses are looking to move billions of dollars’ worth of art — and a very special car — on a crisis-proof market this season.

Against a backdrop of wars in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as worldwide inflation, the two titans of the sector — Sotheby’s and Christie’s — will be moving a host of big-ticket lots, though they may still have a hard time topping last year, when total sales hit a record $16 billion.

Sotheby’s, owned by the French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, could come away with the lion’s share of this year’s proceeds after its autumn sales from November 7-15 in New York, one of the top global hubs of both art and finance.

Its rival Christie’s, which belongs to the Artemis holding group of fellow French billionaire Francois Pinault, is putting between $720 million and $1 billion in lots under the hammer in the coming days.

Fifty years after his death, Pablo Picasso is expected to be one of the blockbusters this season with the sale of a major work: “Femme a la montre”, or “Woman with a Watch”.

The depiction of the French painter Marie-Therese Walter, one of Picasso’s muses, could fetch as much as $120 million, according to pre-auction estimates.

– Landau collection –

The painting is part of Sotheby’s special sale this week of the collection of the wealthy New York patron of the arts Emily Fisher Landau, who died this year at the age of 102.

Also included in the collection are works by Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.

For the Landau collection alone, Sotheby’s is hoping to net around $400 million.

Julian Dawes, the house’s head of impressionist and modern art, called the Picasso canvas “a masterpiece by every measure”.

“Painted in 1932 — Picasso’s ‘annus mirabilis’ — it is full of joyful, passionate abandon yet at the same time it is utterly considered and resolved,” he said.

Walter was considered Picasso’s “golden muse”, and features in another of his works going under the hammer on Thursday at Christie’s: “Femme endormie”, or “Sleeping Woman”, estimated to sell for $25-$35 million.

In 2021, the auction house sold another Picasso featuring Walter for $103 million.

Christie’s is also selling “Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange)”, a prized 1955 canvas by Rothko, the American abstractionist who died in 1970.

Emily Kaplan, the auction house’s head of sales for 20th century works, told AFP the piece was expected to go for “around $45 million”.

Representing the Impressionists, a major work by Claude Monet — “Le bassin aux nympheas” (1917-1919), one of his many paintings of water lilies — is also up for sale by Christie’s, which has declined to reveal its pre-auction estimate.

At Sotheby’s, Monet’s “Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, temps couvert” (1891), a depiction of poplars along the river Epte, is expected to fetch $30-$40 million on Monday.

– Italian legend –

One of the highlights of the fall sales, however, will not be a painting or a sculpture, but a car.

The luxury automobile subsidiary RM Sotheby’s will auction off a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO on Monday for a price of “more than $60 million”, one of its managers, Michael Caimano, told AFP.

Owned by an American collector for 40 years, it is expected to be the most expensive Ferrari 250 GTO ever sold — one of the Italian legends was purchased in 2018 at RM Sotheby’s for $48 million.

If it matches the estimate, it would also be the second-most expensive car ever sold, behind one of only two examples of the Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe from 1955, sold for 135 million euros ($144 million) by RM Sotheby’s and Mercedes-Benz at a confidential auction in 2022 at the German manufacturer’s museum in Stuttgart.

“Whatever happens in the financial markets, a car of this caliber is a collector’s item, a unique opportunity in the life of a collector,” said Caimano, comparing it to a work of art that one “can touch, smell and hear”.

Auction houses are enjoying a healthy art and luxury goods market, driven by China and showing no signs of a slowdown, said Kelsey Reed Leonard, head of contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s.

Even one of the sector’s smaller houses, Phillips, will offer “Le 14 juillet”, or “The 14th of July”, by the French cubist painter Fernand Leger next Tuesday for $15-$20 million. — Agence France-Presse