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27 February 2024

Old masters sell well in lean times

Relief éponge by Yves Klein, which is estimated to fetch £5m to £7m, will be auctioned by Christie's on February 11 in London. (SUPPLIED)

By Reena Amos Dyes

As the recession and its aftermath have not done anything to cool the passion of collectors of rare paintings, Christie's will be auctioning works by Renoir and Picasso that have been unseen for more than 40 years.

Talking to Emirates Business about the impact of the recession on the sale of paintings by old masters, Jussi Pylkkanen, President, Christie's, Europe and Middle East, said: "The volumes of our recent Old Masters auctions where rare paintings came on the market, are not significantly different than they have been for the past five years."

He said a prominent Christie's auction in London in December made a great impact on the art world with three particularly rare works being offered: Domenichino's Saint John the Evangelist, which realised nearly £10 million (Dh58.73m); Rembrandt's Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo, which sold for more than £20m; and Raphael's sublime Study for a Muse, which was bought for more than £29m.

"The auction in December last year did highlight that despite the recession, collectors are both confident in consigning rare and exceptional works to auction, and in acquiring them if the chance arises. A collector is only likely to have one opportunity in their lifetime to acquire a monumental Domenichino, a masterful late Rembrandt portrait or a Raphael drawing with such historical importance. This opportunity, coupled with a collector's passion for the art, attracts them to the auction despite the financial climate," Pylkkanen said. So encouraged, Christie's will auction masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Natalia Gonchorova, which have been unseen in public for nearly 40 years, at the Impressionist and Modern Art sale that will be held tomorrow in London.

While the Tête de femme (Jacqueline) by Pablo Picasso is expected to realise £3m to £4m, the Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge by Pierre-Auguste Renoir is expected to realise £1.8m to £2.5m. The Post-War and Contemporary Art auction, which will be held on February 11 in London, will bring on the market the Relief éponge by Yves Klein, which is estimated to fetch £5m to £7m.

Explaining why the Relief éponge is estimated to fetch more than the Picasso and the Renoir, Pylkkanen said: "The estimate for each work of art is determined on a case-by-case basis and takes into account past market performance for similar works, the demand that there is in the marketplace for such a work, as well as its condition, provenance, rarity and importance. It is the final price at auction that truly illustrates the value of the work at a precise moment of time."

The Klein is particularly rare as it is one of only two gold sponges created by one of the most influential artist's of the 20th century. The gold sponge is a work that encapsulates the thinking and methodology of this great artist and it is being offered at auction for the first time so this is the first opportunity that any collector has had to acquire the work.

Talking about the impact of the recession on the art market in general, Pylkkanen said: "We saw a continuing demand in the international art market in 2009; our average sale rates actually increased by five per cent to 80 per cent compared with the previous year, and we had many hugely successful sales including the Collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in Paris in February which made a world record total of more than $440m.

"The most notable effect of the recession was that there was a significant decline in supply and this resulted in reduced sale totals and overall turnover. As we look forward to the sales in London in February, which are the first major international art auctions of the year, we can see a notable increase in the confidence of consignors. The strong results seen last year for works of the greatest quality have clearly illustrated that collectors are still fully engaged in the art market, and this has encouraged confidence with sellers," he added.


Pablo Picasso

Tête de femme (Jacqueline), 1963, is a portrait of the artist's second wife whom he had married two years earlier in 1961. Jacqueline became a regular model for the artist who had by this time become internationally famous. The couple lived at Notre-Dame-de-Vie, a large villa by Mougins that would provide his home for the rest of his life, and she became the most important of all his muses and models. This portrait has never before been offered at auction and has been in the same collection since 1981. Jacqueline had a very short neck and Picasso would often humorously exaggerate its size in his portraits.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge, 1880, is an important work by Renoir that dates to the highpoint of the artist's portrait painting. Exhibited twice during the artist's lifetime, it portrays Hélène Grimprel, the granddaughter of Armand Grimprel, a wealthy banker who became a great patron of Renoir.

Yves Klein

Relief éponge is the longer of only two gold sponge reliefs ever created by Klein. This encapsulates the essence of Klein's art and the present example typifies the artist's quest to explore spatial boundaries. Executed in 1961, the year in which man first went into space, it was formerly in the collection of Francois de Menil, the son of Dominique and Jean, the founders of the museum in Houston and was acquired by the present owner in 1980. It will be auctioned for the first time.


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