A Tale of Two Magrittes at Sotheby's Modernités $39.49m Sale
3 min read · 20 Oct 2023
La valse hésitation by Rene Magritte sold for $11.77m, copyright the artist's estate, courtesy of Sotheby's
A surreal fruit painting by Rene Magritte, was the most expensive work sold at Sotheby's Modernités on October 23, but with a guarantee in place, it reflected below par results on the night.
A second Magritte painting failed to find a buyer, however, and another hammered near its low estimate. Works by other 20th century heavyweights were withdrawn before the sale. Overall, the high-profile sale reflected market uncertainties, with 45% of lots selling for within estimates.
Along with the outperforming works and the underperforming ones, we demystify auction-house jargon and decode the small print. The results below include the fees and premiums added to the price when the auctioneer's hammer fell.
Snapshot of the Sale
The 38 works that went under the hammer totalled: $39.49m.
Estimates totalled: $46.07m (low) and $68.13m (high), excluding fees.
The sell-through rate was 66% of the 47 lots originally listed before withdrawals.
9 works were withdrawn and 7 were bought-in, having failed to find a buyer.
The top lot was Rene Magritte, La valse hésitation (1955), which had a guarantee. It sold for $11.77m, 10% above estimate. It has been traded 3 times in the past.
The outperformer sold for 250% above estimate. Lucio Fontana. Concetto spaziale, Natura (1959) hammered at $2.28m. It has been traded once in the past.
Breakdown of results against estimates
15 works, or 48%, sold above their high estimate.
14 works, or 45%, sold within their estimate.
2 works, or 6%, sold below their low estimate.
7 works had a guarantee, including Jean Dubuffet, Territoire aux deux promeneurs (1974). It sold for $1.04m, 1% below estimate. It has been traded 3 times in the past.
Works That Didn’t Sell
7 works were bought-in, having failed to find a buyer, including Rene Magritte, La vie secrète (1929), estimated at $743,700 (low) to $1.06m (high). It has been traded 5 times in the past.
Bought-in works had a total estimated value of: $3.08m (low) to $4.36m (high).
Withdrawn Before the Sale
9 works were withdrawn before the sale, including Nicolas de Stael, Sicile (Paysage en Sicile) (1954), estimated at $2.66m (low) to $3.72m (high)
Withdrawn works had a total estimated value of $11.51m (low) to $16.01m (high)
Terms and Definitions
Guarantees: Sometimes an auction house, possibly with a third party or parties, guarantees to pay a seller for a work, regardless of whether the bidding reaches the reserve price, which is typically confidential.
Bought-in: If there are no bids for a work, or if bidding falls short of the reserve price, the lot is unsold or “bought-in”, sometimes described as “closed” in the post-sale results.
Withdrawn: This happens when a seller decides, for whatever reason, to withdraw a work before the bidding begins.