Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, “Madonna of the Rosary with angels” (1735), oil on canvas (Courtesy Sotheby’s)

Sotheby’s annual Masters Week in New York is now underway. The first day of sales totaled $76.2 million and marked the highest sales total for a Sotheby’s Old Masters drawing auction: $15.1 million, $11.7 million of which came from Andrea Mantegna’s “The Triumph of Alexandria,” which set the record for the most expensive Old Master drawing ever sold in the United States. The Old Masters painting sale, which garnered $61.1 million, was led by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s “Madonna of the Rosary with Angels.” The rare painting, which is over 8 feet tall, sold for $17.3 million, almost three times the artist’s previous record at auction.

(Courtesy Sotheby’s)

At Sotheby’s on January 23 and 24, an online sale of the late designer Mario Buatta’s kitschy, maximalist trove of 922 objects garnered $7.6 million, about 250% of the sale’s high estimate. The collection of the “Prince of Chintz” had a sell-through rate of 99%. Standout lots include Frances C. Fairman’s “The Boxer Rebellion” (1902), a painting of an unlikely canine pairing of a Boxer and a Pekingese against an ornate backdrop; a part-service of Dodie Thayer Pottery Lettuce Ware characteristic of “Palm Beach Style”; and a group (alternatively an “intrusion”) of the plastic cockroaches that Buatta occasionally sent to friends.

Phillips London also had a successful sale this week, selling over $6 million worth of editions across evening and day sales — the highest sales total for a Phillips Editions sale in London. Pablo Picasso’s “La Minotauromachie” (1935) led the charge at $1.3 million.

At Tiroche Auction House in Tel Aviv, a stolen Marc Chagall painting, “Jacob’s Ladder” (c. 1973), sold for its low estimate of $130,000. The work was stolen in 1996 a few days prior to an auction that planned to include it; it was rediscovered in an elderly woman’s estate in Jerusalem when the estate was passing to her nephew. It had never been hung.

Christie’s canceled this year’s annual spring auction in Dubai. The auction house’s Middle East chairman Michael Jeha cited a thinning market of available “top quality Modern Middle Eastern works” as a contributing factor. Financial instability in the region, particularly with the banking crisis in art market stronghold Lebanon, probably didn’t help. Christie’s still plans to hold its Dubai “Important Watches” sale in April 2020. 

Two dozen galleries including Paula Cooper, Metro Pictures, and Sprüth Magers were signatories on a letter to the directors of Art Basel Hong Kong expressing financial and ethical concerns about the fair amid pro-democracy protests in the area. The galleries requested a 50% reduction in booth fees; in their response, the fair directors declined, citing other concessions that had already been made. 

Palokärki (Great Black Woodpecker or Wilderness) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

In a deal brokered by Sotheby’s, the Musée d’Orsay acquired “Palokärki (Great Black Woodpecker or Wilderness)” (c. 1892-1894) by Finnish landscape painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Gallen-Kallela, whose work was particularly beloved by the Finnish nationalists of his time, depicted a woodpecker to symbolize Finnish patriotism prior to the country’s declaration of independence in 1917.

Edgar Degas (1834–1917), Woman Bathing, c. 1886, pastel on wove paper mounted on cardboard, 72.5 x 57.2 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The Van Gogh Museum acquired Edgar Degas’s “Woman Bathing” (c. 1886), a pastel from a series of about ten that Degas made from 1884 to 1887. Van Gogh was inspired by work from this series when he encountered it in 1886 at the last of the eight Impressionist exhibitions in Paris. The newly acquired drawing is the most fully worked piece by Degas in the Dutch National Collection.

The Denver Art Museum received 44 works on paper by artists such as Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Gauguin, a donation from the collection of Esmond Bradley Martin. The museum announced several additional acquisitions, including two paintings by Jordan Casteel—works previously on view in her 2019 solo show at DAM, “Jordan Casteel:  Returning the Gaze” — and a series of prints by Wendy Red Star, who was the museum’s Native Artist-in-Residence for five months in 2016 and 2017.

Magdalena Abakanowicz, “Unitled” (1980-83) (courtesy of the Nasher Sculpture Center)

Using the Kaleta A. Doolin Acquisitions Fund for Women Artists, a fund dedicated to advancing gender equality in the museum’s collection, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas purchased a sistal weaving by Magdalena Abakanowicz; a set of rainbow blocks by Judy Chicago; and a ceramic vessel by Beverly Semmes. The Nasher also received a gift of work by John Chamberlain, David McManaway, Joan Miró, and Claes Oldenburg, donated by the late William B. Jordan.

Also as part of an initiative to increase holdings of work by female artists, the Art Gallery of Ontario purchased a two-channel film by Tacita Dean, a video installation by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and a painting by Silke Otto-Knapp. The museum also received a donation of six preparatory works that Judy Chicago made for “The Dinner Party” (1974–1979). The AGO has spent $4.3 million acquiring works by female artists over the past five years.

A restitution case against the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, filed in 2016, may be heading to the US Supreme Court. Laurel Zuckerman is the heir to Paul and Alice Leffmann, who were forced to flee Germany, and then Italy, due to Nazi persecution. Under duress, the pair sold Pablo Picasso’s masterwork “The Actor” for $12,000 in 1938. The work was donated to the Met in 1952 and is now valued at over $100 million. In the meantime, the Met still owns the painting: the suit was previously dismissed by the New York federal court, a decision upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.





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