New York's fall auction scene saw a sharp turnaround Wednesday night, as a Sotheby's auction sold $200 million US in art the day after rival Christie's fell short.
Gustav Klimt's landscape Litzlberg am Attersee (Litzlberg on the Attersee) was the evening's top lot, soaring well past its $25- to $35-million estimate to sell for $40.4 million (including auction house commission).
The work was recently restored to the Montreal-based heir of its original owner, after having been looted by the Nazis 70 years ago.
Pablo Picasso's playful and sensual nude painting L'Aubade (Dawn Song), another work put up by a Canadian, also fared well.
Sotheby's sold the work, owned by an unnamed Toronto collector, for $23 million — within its pre-sale estimate of $18 million to $25 million and a new record price for a late-period Picasso.
Other highlights of Wednesday night's impressionist and modern art sale included new artists' records for Gustave Caillebotte, whose 1883 landscape Le Pont d'Argenteuil sold for $18 million, and Tamara de Lempicka, whose 1927 portrait Le rêve (Rafaela sur Fond Vert) fetched nearly $8.5 million.
A prominent lot, the Henri Matisse bas-relief bronze Nu de dos (1er état), was withdrawn this week just ahead of the auction, after Sotheby's closed a private deal for the monumental work as well as the three corresponding pieces in the series of Matisse nudes shown from the back. The sale price of the series was not disclosed.
Overall, 57 of the 70 lots (or 81 per cent of Wednesday evening's offerings) were sold.
"If ever there was a turnaround, I think it happened tonight," Sotheby's auctioneer Tobias Meyer said after the sale.
A night earlier, rival auction house Christie's had a rough ride, with many of its highest-profile pieces failing to find buyers, including a Edward Degas bronze dancer expected to fetch more than $25 million. Christie's sold just 62 per cent of the artworks it had on offer, for a total of $140.8 million — well short of the $212 million to $304 million expected.
The season continues in November with auctions for contemporary and post-war art.