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    Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

    A view of the packed saleroom.

    Amadeo Modigliani’s Nu Couche (Sur le cote gauche) sold for $157.2 million at Sotheby’s in New York last night.  This is the highest price in Sotheby’s auction history and nearly six times the price paid for the same painting when it was sold by casino mogul Steve Wynn in 2003.  The seller this time round is believed to be the Irish horse trainer John Magnier of Coolmore Stud.  Modigliani now belongs to a rarefied league of only three artists to break the US$150 million barrier at auction, along with Pablo Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci.

    A quarter of all sold works at the Impressionist  and Modern Art evening sale were acquired by Asian private collectors.  Those works were led by Pablo Picasso’s dreamy 1932 portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, Le Repos, which made $36.9 million. A portion of the proceeds from the work will go to charity through The Sue J. Gross Foundation. The painting last sold at auction in 2000 for $7.9 million.  The evening sale achieved $318.3 million.

    (See post on for April 24, 2018)


    Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

    This splendid full length 1600-1603 portrait of Anne Russell, Lady Herbert, later Countess of Worcester comes up at Sotheby’s sale of Old Master paintings in London on May 2.

    It represents some of the most extravagant court fashion worn during the final years of Elizabeth I’s reign. Anne is portrayed in the costume associated with Elizabeth’s maids of honour, such as the head-dress composed of silver wire and pearls.

    Anne Russell was the younger daughter of Lord John Russell (d. 1584) and Elizabeth Cooke (circa 1528-1609). She went to court as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s last maids of honour in 1594, and on 16 June 1600 the Queen honoured Anne and Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert, later 5th Earl & 1st Marquess of Worcester (1577-1646), by attending their marriage, one of the last dynastic unions of Tudor England.

    The work was reproduced in Peter Somerville-Large’s  The Irish Country House, a social history as hanging in the galleried hall at Kilcooley Abbey, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Estimated at £80,000-120,000 it was in the collection of Sir William Barker, 4th Bt. (d. 1818) at Kilcooley Abbey.  It passed by descent within the Ponsonby Barker family at Kilcooley Abbey and was with the Weiss Gallery in London in 2004.  It is described by Sotheby’s as the property of a European private collector.

    UPDATE: THIS MADE £297,000


    Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

    Amedeo Modigliani Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) Signed Modigliani (lower left)

    Modigliani’s largest painting – Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) – is estimated to sell for more than $150 million at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale in New York on May 14.  This is the highest estimate ever placed on a work of art at auction.  Nu couché was acquired by the present owner at auction in 2003 for $26.9 million.  The seller is believed to be Irish bloodstock billionaire John Magnier  who owns Coolmore Stud, the world’s biggest breeder of thoroughbred racehorses. His wife Susan co-owns a promising three-year-old colt  named Amedeo Modigliani.  It was previously owned by casino mogul Steve Wynn.

    In 2015, another reclining nude from the series sold at auction for $170.4 million, at the time marking the second-highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction.

    Painted a century ago, Nu couché is the greatest work from the iconic series in which Modigliani reinvented the nude for the Modern era. Upon their debut exhibition in 1917, these striking and sensual images stopped traffic – quite literally – and prompted the police to close the show. Today, the series is recognized as one of the seminal achievements in Modern painting. The shock and awe that Modigliani’s nudes continue to elicit was evident most recently during Tate Modern’s celebrated retrospective of the artist’s work that included Nu couché.   The work is the largest painting of Modigliani’s entire oeuvre – measuring nearly 58 inches / 147 centimeters across – and the only one of his horizontal nudes to contain the entire figure within the canvas.

    Most of the 22 reclining nudes from the series are found in museums, with particular depth in the United States: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York each hold three examples. Outside of the United States, institutions with reclining nudes include the Long Museum in Shanghai and The Courtauld Gallery in London.


    Saturday, March 31st, 2018

    Jackson Pollock’s Number 32, 1949

    Number 32, 1949 by Jackson Pollock comes up at Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction in New York on May 16.  Never before seen at auction it is estimated at $30-40 million.  The production of the artist’s drip paintings of 1948-9 stands as one of the most radical events in 20th-century art, in which the boundaries of painting were pushed and a new aesthetic established. Number 32, 1949 comes from a critical year for the artist and epitomises the chaotic vibrancy, heroic drama and thrilling vigour that have come to define Pollock’s prodigious legacy.

    Jackson Pollock executed his first drip painting in 1947. Over the next two years he would hone this now instantly recognisable, signature technique, producing the monumental Autumn Rhythm (collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Number 1A, 1948 (collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Number 32 is one of a small number of more intimate 1949 paintings in which the artist more fully explored the subtleties of the drip technique. It was featured in the second of two shows that year at Betty Parsons Gallery about which Robert M. Coates wrote in the New Yorker: “They seem to me the best painting he has yet done.”

    Number 32 is one of a very limited group of 16 drip paintings Pollock created on paper mounted on masonite or canvas in 1949 and one of only eight that feature the aluminium paint that creates a lustrous shimmer around his elaborate gestural movements. Boasting a fully painted surface with intricate layers of dripped and poured oil the work has one of the most complete and richly covered surfaces of the entire series.

    Saturday, March 24th, 2018

    Africa Dances by Ben Enwonwu (£60,000-£90,000). UPDATE:  THIS SOLD FOR £187,500

    Modern and Contemporary African art will come under the hammer at Sotheby’s in London on March 28.  This is the second dedicated sale in what is the newest specialist department at Sotheby’s.  It will include works by 62 artists from 16 countries across Africa.

    The focus is on contemporary art.  Most of these works have not been offered before in an international auction. Last year the inaugural sale in this category drew buyers from 30 countries and more than half the lots sold at figures above the high estimate.

    Hannah O’Leary, head of modern and contemporary art at Sotheby’s said:  “The international spotlight on Modern and Contemporary African art is growing ever stronger as museums, critics and art fairs increasingly look to profile art from the region”.


    Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

    The Farnese Blue

    After three centuries in the same family one of the foremost historic diamonds – The Farnese Blue – will come to market  for the first time in history this spring. Given to Elisabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain (1692-1766), worn on a diadem that formerly belonged to the last Queen of France, Marie-Antoinette (1755-1791), the legendary diamond has subsequently passed down through four of the most important royal families in Europe: Spain, France, Italy and Austria. Witness to 300 years of European history the diamond has travelled across the continent for centuries.  It was kept secretly in a royal casket.  Few knew of its existence. The 6.16-carat pear shaped blue diamond will be offered in Sotheby’s sale of Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels in Geneva on May 15 2018 with an estimate of US$ 3.7 – 5.3 million.

    Blue has often been identified as the colour of the Kings and in the 17 and 18th centuries, blue diamonds were viewed as the ultimate royal gift. Like the famous Hope and Wittelsbach diamonds, the Farnese Blue was certainly found in the famed Golconda mines of India, which was the sole source of diamonds until the discoveries in Brazil in the 1720’s.

    David Bennett, Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division and Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Switzerland, said: “It is difficult to put into words the excitement of holding between thumb and forefinger a gem discovered centuries ago, knowing it originated in the legendary Golconda diamond mines of India. This stone has witnessed 300 years of European history, and in colour is reminiscent of historic Golconda blue gems such as the Hope diamond.”.



    Monday, March 19th, 2018

    Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) – Portrait of a bearded Venetian nobleman, bust length.  UPDATE: THIS SOLD FOR £5,416,400

    A rare portrait by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) will spearhead Sotheby’s Old Masters sale in London on July 4. Unseen on the market for 60 years, this remarkable depiction of a Venetian Nobleman was almost certainly cherished by the artist who kept it until his death in 1640. Acquired by the great Dutch collector Hans Wetzlar in the early 1950’s it has remained in the possession of his descendants ever since.

    Painter, designer, print-maker, sculptor, architect, diplomat, peace-treaty broker, at the helm of the largest studio of his time, Rubens was the first great artist-collector in Northern Europe and the fact that he almost certainly owned the present portrait until his death is testament to its importance.

    George Gordon, Worldwide Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Department, said: “Rubens is known as the “Prince of the painters” and his legacy is far reaching. His timeless modernity and immediacy is evident in this painting which encapsulates several strands of his creative, emotional and intellectual life. With its bravura brushwork which shows no hint of hesitancy, this is a portrait of a man as real to us as he was in the artist’s mind. Almost 400 years after being created, this is a painting that gives the viewer immense pleasure, and one in which we can feel Rubens’ own joy in creating it.”

    Painted in the 1620’s this is one of only a few portraits by the artist to come on the market in recent years. It is estimated in the region of £3 million.  UPDATE: THIS SOLD FOR £5,416,400


    Thursday, March 8th, 2018

    James Gillray – Consequences of a successful French Invasion

    Irish history manifests itself in many forms among them political cartoons. The political cartoon collection of Jeffrey Archer which Sotheby’s will offer in London on March 14 includes a James Gillray cartoon titled:  ‘Consequences of a successful French invasion .. or… we fly on the wings of the wind to save the Irish catholics from persecution”.

    It relates to the aftermath of the French Revolution, during which the Catholic church as a large landowner suffered greatly.  Many priests were executed or deported during The Terror,  churches and religious images were destroyed. By early 1798, the leaders of the French Directory had secured the occupation of Switzerland, Piedmont and the Papal States. In response to fear of an impending invasion in Britain the Scottish lawyer and historian Sir John Dalrymple (1726-1810) approached James Gillray to produce a series of loyalist, anti-Jacobin prints that ‘might rouse all the People to an active Union against that Invasion. This cartoon represents what the French might do to the catholics of England and Ireland.  It is estimated at £20,000-30,000.


    Thursday, March 8th, 2018

    Rudolf Stingel, Untitled (2009), oil on canvas sold for £4.6 million.

    Peter Doig’s Toronto painting – The Architect’s Home in the Ravine – was the top lot at Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale in London tonight.  It made £14.4 million.

    A packed London saleroom witnessed intense bidding on the phones for Rudolf Stingel’s monumental mountainscape Untited (2009).  This theatrical view of the Tyrolean Alps near Merano, Italy sold for £4.6 million. Christopher Wool’s  Untitled soared over its high estimate to reach £10.4 million, and a trio of abstract works by Gerhard Richter achieved a combined total of £21.3 million.

    The evening sale realised a total of £109,292,700.

    (See posts on for February 16, 2018 and February 11, 2016)


    Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

    Andy Warhol – Six Self-Portraits  UPDATE: THIS SOLD FOR £22.6 MILLION

    Stellar names in global contemporary art will feature at sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London next week.  Andy Warhol’s Six Self Portraits, completed just months before his sudden death in 1987, will lead Christie’s sale on March 6. Jackson Pollock’s Number 21, 1950 has an estimate of £10-15 million and among the other highlights are works by Basquiat, Mapplethorpe and Lucio Fontana.

    Sotheby’s Contemporary sale on March 7 is headlined by Peter Doig’s The Architect’s Home in the Ravine.  The sale spans the postwar era, Pop art and the pictures generation and features outstanding works by Rudolf Stingel, Bawquiat, Christopher Wool, Hurvin Anderson and Laura Owens.  A maquette by Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North marks the 20th anniversary of the sculpture’s unveiling at Gateshead in the UK.