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  • Noted Collections Bolster Christie's Fall Sales
    1.11.2005 NEW YORK.

    Christie's has Lichtenstein's "In the Car," expected to bring $15 million or more.

    Starting Tuesday, Christie's will offer several exceptional works, including a Toulouse-Lautrec painting of a red-haired model, one of the centerpieces of the recent exhibition "Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre" at the Art Institute of Chicago; a 1954 Rothko inspired by Matisse's 1911 "Red Studio"; and an abstract de Kooning from 1977 that has had only one owner: the artist's lawyer, Lee V. Eastman.

    Experts at the auction house are trying not to gloat. They know all too well that memories are short and sellers fickle. Only 18 months ago, Sotheby's was in the limelight when it sold "Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)," a 1905 painting from Picasso's Rose Period, for $104.1 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting at auction. And six months from now, it could easily be Sotheby's that catches the next big fish.

    But when the fall auction season opens on Tuesday night - the start of two weeks of back-to-back evening auctions - all eyes will be on Christie's. A combination of longstanding relationships, a strong team of experts and aggressive financing are the reasons.

    In the next two weeks, Christie's executives expect to sell $300 million to $400 million worth of art. Sotheby's estimates its fall sales will bring in $200 million to $300 million.

    The season begins with Christie's auction of Impressionist and Modern art on Tuesday, featuring 13 works designated "Property From a Private American Collection." The paintings, drawings and sculptures were bought from leading dealers in the late 1960's and early 70's by the Chicago collectors Bette and Neison Harris. Mr. Harris, an entrepreneur who was a founder of Toni Home Permanent, died in 2001, and Mrs. Harris in July. Now their heirs are selling the art, valued at $48 million to $68 million.

    The collection will be a crucial test of the Impressionist market. In the last few years, tastes have gravitated more toward Modern and contemporary art, driven in large part by billionaire hedge-fund managers. But some experts say this could be a time when these same traders - sensitive to investment and market trends - will begin to look back and think that prices for the newer art have become inflated.

    "There are new collectors beginning to aggressively participate in the Impressionist and Modern market," said Guy Bennett, who oversees Christie's evening sales of Impressionist and Modern art.

    Christie's is taking a gamble. To win the Harris collection, it has given the heirs a guarantee - an undisclosed minimum sum promised to the seller regardless of the outcome of the sale - that is said to be close to $60 million. The collection's Toulouse-Lautrec work, "The Laundress," carries the highest estimate of works in the sale. Made in 1886-87, when the artist was 23, it depicts Carmen Gaudin, a red-haired model whom the artist painted on a number of occasions, gazing soulfully out an open window. Christie's estimates the painting will bring $20 million to $25 million.

    Another Impressionist painting from the Harris collection that is receiving a lot of attention from collectors is Pissarro's "Country at Harvest Time, Pontoise" (1873), a balmy landscape of a small town northwest of Paris that is estimated at $4 million to $6 million.

    Another painting at Christie's that is generating talk is an early Cézanne still life, this one from the heirs of Durand-Ruel, the dynasty of Paris dealers. "Apples and Cake," circa 1873 to 1877, is estimated at $3.5 million to $4.5 million.

    On the cover of the Sotheby's catalog for its sale on Wednesday night is Monet's "Grand Canal" (1908), one of the artist's dreamy Venetian scenes, estimated at $12 million to $16 million. Sotheby's last sold the painting in 1989 for $11.5 million. A later Monet in the sale, from 1918 to 1924, is "The Japanese Footbridge," another classic Impressionist image, estimated at $1.5 million to $2 million.

    Sotheby's sale that night begins with more Modern art from the estate of Josephine and Walter Buhl Ford II, the automotive heirs. Among the potential stars is Picasso's "Yellow Nude," a 1907 watercolor that was one of the first studies for the artist's groundbreaking "Demoiselles d'Avignon." "It hasn't been on the market since 1965," said David Norman, a co-director of Impressionist and Modern art for Sotheby's worldwide. It is estimated at $3 million to $4 million.

    Betting that the hearty appetite for postwar and contemporary art will continue, Christie's sale on Nov. 8 is one of its biggest yet, bolstered by two major collections: those of Eastman, the entertainment lawyer, who died in 1991, and the Los Angeles real estate developer Edward R. Broida, who recently gave 174 works from his holdings to the Museum of Modern Art.

    Each collection has its share of Abstract Expressionist works, the kind that do not often come on the market. Besides representing him, Eastman collected de Koonings. Among the best is an untitled 1977 abstract landscape painted while the artist was living in East Hampton, N.Y. A canvas of marine blues, greens and pinks, it is de Kooning's interpretation of a view of the ocean. Christie's expects it to sell for $4 million to $6 million.

    Another rare abstract painting belonging to Mr. Broida is a 1954 Rothko, "Homage to Matisse," a canvas of the artist's signature monolithic blocks of color, in this case intense oranges, reds and blues that seem almost luminous. While Christie's has said the estimate is given "on request," experts there say it may well bring $15 million to $20 million.

    Pop Art has been popular recently, and both Sotheby's and Christie's have strong selections of early examples. At Christie's one of Lichtenstein's comic book images, "In the Car" (1963), is being sold by Mitchell Lichtenstein, one of his sons. It is expected to fetch more than $15 million. "You cannot find a painting from the 1960's of this caliber," said Brett Gorvy, a co-head of contemporary art for Christie's worldwide. "A lot of the hand-painted Pop paintings from 1963 went straight into museum collections."

    Sotheby's Nov. 9 sale also features several examples of Pop Art, including Warhol's 1964 "Jackie Frieze," one of two extant works in which the artist assembled portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy in a frieze format. It is estimated at $8 million to $10 million.

    Sotheby's also has the finest sculpture of the season, David Smith's stainless steel "Cubi XXVIII," (1965), the last of the artist's famous Cubi series. It is expected to sell for $8 million to $12 million. "This is it for American sculpture," said Tobias Meyer, director of contemporary art for Sotheby's worldwide. "It's the last one that's truly available because those that are still in private collections are probably going to stay there." (Most are in museum collections.)

    While Sotheby's and Christie's sales tend to concentrate on classic - and pricey - postwar and contemporary art, Phillips, de Pury & Company is filling a niche the big auction houses ignore. Its Nov. 10 sales feature newer, far less expensive art, with mostly paintings, drawings and sculpture from the 1980's and 90's, and some just two or three years old.

    "After the success of art fairs like Frieze in London and Art Basel Miami, we're seeing a lot of young, new collectors each season," said Michael McGinnis, Phillips's director of contemporary art. His sale features many of today's hottest names: Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Tom Friedman, Glenn Brown and Damien Hirst. The sale also features late Pop works by artists like Lichtenstein and Warhol that are far less expensive than those for sale at either Sotheby's or Christie's. Among the higher-priced works in the sale is a 1970 Warhol estimated at $2 million to $3 million.

    "These price levels are comfortable for people," Mr. McGinnis said. "Things may go higher and create a buzz in the auction room."