Drizzle and union protesters couldn’t dampen the spirits at Sotheby’s historic Impressionist and modern auction this evening, where auctioneer Tobias Meyer brought in an impressive sum of $330.6 million with buyer’s premium. The amount marked the house’s second-highest total ever, which was bolstered by the sale of the last Edvard Munch Scream not in a museum to a telephone bidder for $119.9 million.
Of the 76 lots on offer, 15 went unsold, a solid sell-through rate of 80 percent by lot. Forty-seven of the lots sold within or over their pre-sale estimates, and the Munch marked the only artist record set. That $330.6 million sum was on the high end of the sale’s $246.3-$323.4 million estimate. The Munch represented about a third of that total.
The house was packed, and included plenty of cameramen and journalists of all stripes eager for the sale of the historic painting, which was estimated to sell for around $80 million.
“Well, there are only a few people or groups who can buy it,” said the curator Francesco Bonami, offering his thoughts on the elevator ride up to the top floor where auctions are held. He was on assignment for Standpoint magazine. “One of them probably will.”
The Munch was the star lot (read our write-up of that sale here) to the point that many started leaving not long after its sale. By the last few lots, the room was nearly empty, which led to six consecutive unsold lots near the very end of the lengthy event, which stretched two and a half hours.
The auction held other bright spots, including Constantin Brancusi’s Prométhée (1911), which sold for $12.7 million with premium, a nice improvement on the last time this piece came to auction at Christie’s in 1999, when it sold to tonight’s seller for $1.2 million.
Salvador Dalí nabbed a new second-highest price at auction with a harrowing landscape that sold for $16.3 million with premium.
But it would be foolish to pretend that this auction was about anything but The Scream.
“To be able to say 100 million dollars hammer in an auction room, that was something that I cherish as an auctioneer,” Mr. Meyer said at a press conference afterward. “I’m very proud for Sotheby’s. It is worth every penny that the collector paid for it.”
The seller, Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, was also sentimental in his remarks. Reading from something he’d written earlier, he used his bully pulpit before the news cameras, standing in front of the Munch, to give a fairly long speech on the dangers of global warming.
“I hope that the publicity given by this sale will increase public awareness of Munch’s work,” he began, “and awareness of the important message that I feel it conveys–The Scream for me shows the horrifying moment when man realizes his impact on nature and the irreversible changes that he has initiated, making the planet increasingly uninhabitable.”
This continued for some time. “Munch’s hand-painted poem on the frame ends with the words ‘the great scream in nature,’” he said. “It is as if Munch has had a premonition of what man was going to inflict on nature.” He said he plans to renovate Munch’s home as part of the of the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth, and also plans to open a gallery.
“I think what we’ve learned tonight is that art is a lot more valuable than money,” quipped uptown dealer Frances Beatty, “Especially when it comes to trophies.”
The major biannual evening sales continue next week in New York with contemporary auctions at all three major houses.
All auction research courtesy Artnet.