There was an unmistakable disconnect at Sotheby’s auction Tuesday evening that reinforced the results at Christie’s the night before: despite a low-energy salesroom and few bidders on each lot, some people spent a lot of money on art.
Marc Chagall was the man of the night, with his “Les Amoureux” — depicting the artist in a loving embrace with his first wife, Bella Rosenfeld — which sold for $28.4 million with fees, a high for the artist, over a top estimate of $18 million. It went to a client bidding on the telephone represented by Irina Stepanova, head of Sotheby’s Moscow office.
The painting had been owned by the same family since it was bought in 1928 “with the paint still wet,” according to Simon Shaw, co-head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Worldwide.
The artist’s 1956 canvas, “Le Grand Cirque,” which features acrobats, trapeze artists and clowns, also outperformed its $15 million high estimate, selling for $16 million, to an Asian telephone bidder.
But there were still moments Tuesday night when it felt as though the auctioneer Helena Newman was pulling teeth. And it was hard for her to conceal her disappointment when she was forced to bring the hammer down on Picasso’s 1939 painting “Buste de femme au chapeau” for $19 million ($21.7million with fees), just over the low estimate of $18 million.