May 2, 2012 at 9:36 AM ET
The spring art sales got off to a solid start at Christie's on Tuesday, with works by Cezanne and Matisse each selling for $19 million as the auction house moved $117 million worth of Impressionist and modern art.
The sales continue on Wednesday at Sotheby's, where the star lot is the once-in-a-lifetime offering of Edvard Munch's seminal work, "The Scream." Sotheby's has estimated it at about $80 million, but many in the art world expect it could soar as high as $150 million, given its fame.
Tuesday's sale, relatively small at about half the size of typical evening sales of recent years, easily achieved its pre-sale estimate of $90 million to $130 million, with only three of the 31 lots on offer going unsold.
Christie's officials said they had chosen to assemble a tightly edited sale, focusing on top-quality works fresh to the market and in mint condition, and the strategy appeared to have paid off.
"We're thrilled. It was a great sale, and we had a marvelous sell-through rate," the highest for an Impressionist auction since 2006, said Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie's New York.
The result, Lampley added, "was very much what we expected" after Christie's tried to tailor the sale to the realities of the current art market, which has recovered solidly after falling in the early days of the financial crisis.
"It's an extraordinary situation," she said. "The art market hasn't correlated to other markets. We see a lot more people choosing to put their money into art."
Cezanne's "Card Player," a recently rediscovered watercolor study, and Matisse's vibrant floral composition "Les Pivoines" were the sale's top lots, each selling for $19,122,500 including commission.
The Matisse nearly doubled the estimate, while the Cezanne was in the middle of its $15 million to $20 million estimate. Estimates do not include commission.
Other highlights included Picasso's "Le Repos," a small portrait of his sleeping mistress Marie-Therese Walter, which fetched just under $9.9 million and easily beat the high estimate of $7 million.
Monet's landscape "Les demoiselles de Giverny" sold for $9.6 million, but failed to make its low estimate.
Lampley noted the sale was marked by "particularly strong American bidding."