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Klimt painting fetches $40 million at auction


Latest update : 2011-11-03

A landscape by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt fetched $40 million at Sotheby’s Wednesday, topping a record-breaking sale that auctioneers said marked a heartening turnaround for the art market.

REUTERS - Sotheby's sold an impressive $200 million in Impressionist and modern art on Wednesday, led by a $40 million Klimt landscape at a sale that broke records and helped reassure an unsettled art market.

A day after a dismal auction at rival Christie's saw virtually every top lot go unsold, falling far short of its lowest expectations, Sotheby's found buyers for just over 80 percent of the 70 works on offer and often beat estimates.

The top lot, Klimt's "Litzlberg am Attersee" which was stolen by the Nazis and only recently restored to its rightful heirs, soared to $40.4 million including commission, exceeding its expected price of $25 million to $35 million.

"The market ... really roared back today," said David Norman, Sotheby's head of Impressionist and modern art, after the sale, which came in at the middle of the $165 million to $230 million estimated range.

"There's just tremendous strength," he added, "coming from all over the world."

Auctioneer Tobias Meyer concurred, saying that from his perspective "you could really see the market rallying."

"If ever there was a turnaround, I think it happened tonight," Meyer said.

Officials said the result was heartening, given the volatility gripping financial markets in Europe and worldwide.

And relief was palpable in the salesroom, as evidenced by the sustained applause that followed the final lot's hammer.

New records were set for Gustav Caillebotte, whose "Le Pont d'Argenteuil et la Seine" fetched $18 million, far above the $12 million high estimate, and Tamara de Lempicka, whose "Le reve (Rafaela sur fond vert)" sold for just under $8.5 million.

Picasso's "L'Aubade" was another highlight, selling for just over $23 million, making its estimate.

Officials pointed to that work and the Caillebotte as evidence of the life still coursing through the market.

The Caillebotte sold for just over $8 million just three years ago at auction, while the Picasso work was purchased in 1979 for just under $100,000.

The poor showing at Christie's, they said, was likely the result of aggressive estimates and reserves -- the undisclosed minimum price a seller is willing to accept.

Norman said Sotheby's had lost a number of consignments this season because it wanted to keep estimates conservative. In the current climate, bidders "won't tolerate estimates that are too high," he said.

One of the sale's expected highlights, an iconic Matisse bronze, was withdrawn when Sotheby's completed a private sale of the work on Tuesday. The Texas-based Burnett Foundation sold "Nu de dos (1er etat)," the first of a series of four iconic, monumental bronzes of a human back, along with the other three works in the series, in a single private transaction.

The auctions continue next week when both houses hold their contemporary and post-war art sales.


Date created : 2011-11-03

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