Results for Part I of the Contemporary Art Sale rewarded Sothebys
strategy of offering a rigorously selected, high-quality ensemble of 32 lots, combining quality of execution, large formats, key dates in artists careers, prestigious provenance and market-freshness. International connoisseurs were out in force as the session yielded 19.8 million against a pre-sale estimate of 10.3-14.7m, helping Sothebys Paris to post a record annual total for contemporary art (from two sales) of 51m in 2013.
The work in greatest demand was Joan Mitchells monumental La Grande Vallée XIII (279.4 x 200cm), which soared past estimate to 3,569,500 the highest price for a work by Mitchell since 2008 (lot 13). This is one of the finest paintings from her landmark Grande Vallée series of 20 works produced between Autumn 1983 and Autumn 1984.
The previous record price for Simon Hantaï 720,750 for his 1969 Etude at Sothebys sale of the Marcel Brient Collection in Paris in September 2012 was pulverized as his 1960 m.a.5 (Mariale) soared to 2,561,500 (lot 15, est. 500,000-700,000), a remarkable price reflecting the paintings historical importance as one of just eight works in Hantaïs first Mariales, m.a. series. The work had never previously been offered on the international market, and attracted high-end competition from no fewer than seven international bidders.
One of the highest prices of the Evening Sale, 1,553,500, went to a market-fresh work by Nicolas de Staël, Sicilian Temple (1953), one of the first three landscapes De Staël painted after his return from Italy (lot 3, est. 800,000-1,200,000).
Interest in works by Zao Wou Ki shows no sign of abating. Three paintings, each representative of a different stage in his career, were offered here at auction for the first time led by 1.12.64, a major work with furious brushwork and a sophisticated palette that set a new French record for Zao Wou Ki of 2,561,500 (lot 11, est. 1-1.5m). The two other works had been acquired directly from the artist and transmitted to the current owners by descent. They fetched 901,500 (1.11.86, lot 12, est. 400,000-600,000) and 601,500 (18.4.79, lot 24, est. 200,000-300,000) prices in excess of what similar works by Zao Wou Ki have been bringing recently in Hong Kong or Beijing.
Works from the Second School of Paris also featured strongly in the sale, including five by Pierre Soulages. All sold, led by his impressive Peinture 195 x 130cm, 1957 at 1,553,500 (lot 4, est. 1.3-1.8m).
All three 1950s paintings by the abstract artist Serge Poliakoff currently the subject of an important retrospective at the Musée dArt Moderne de la Ville de Paris respected their estimates to sell for 577,500 (lot 5, est. 400,000-600,000), 481,500 (lot 6, est. 350,000-450,000) and 217,500 (lot 20, est. 200,000-300,000) respectively.
The Evening Sale also saw a 1967 work by Cy Twombly, offered for auction for the first time, sell for 325,500 (lot 14, est. 200,000-300,000). Conceptual works included Claude Lévêques Le Grand Soir (2009), in the form of a chandelier made from neon, which sold in line with estimate for 73,500 (lot 28, est. 60,000-80,000).