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Christie’s Misses the Mark With a $279.3 Million Impressionist and Modern Sale, Leaving Starry Casualties in Its Wake...

November 12, 2018

Pablo Picasso, Femme accoudée, 1921. Image courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2018.



The first sale of any major auction week inevitably feels like a tone-setter, despite the fact that the opening night’s tone can completely invert 24 hours later. New York’s auctioneers may be hoping for that kind of turnabout after Christie’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale came to a close on Sunday night.


Although the house delivered a very respectable 85 percent sell-through rate, the total sales value of $279.3 million failed to reach the pre-sale estimate of “in excess of $304.7 million.” (Unless otherwise noted, sales values include buyer’s premium; pre-sale estimates do not.)


There was no better representative for the evening than one of the sale’s premier lots, Vincent van Gogh’s Coin de jardin avec papillons (1887), which triggered a wave of stunned murmurs in the room when it failed to sell at $30 million. Appearing at auction for the first time, the work—a strikingly dynamic garden scene—carried a pre-sale estimate in the region of $40 million. “It was an extraordinary work with an ambitious estimate,” said specialist Max Carter after the sale. “These things happe