Summer 2015

Art & Auctions
New records set at Sotheby’s

Important watches, modern art and Orientalist paintings were all in hot demand at auctions held by Sotheby’s in the US and UK over the past few months. 

Timepieces spanning from 1760 to 2015 brought Sotheby’s its highest ever total for a various-owner watch sale in New York, US, achieving $12.5 million (sale estimate $6.5-10 million) with a very strong 88.8 per cent of lots sold.

The centrepiece of the Important Watches auction held in June was a magnificent private collection of 22 Swiss enamelled automata that achieved $6.1 million (collection estimate $2.3-3.6 million). 

The collection offered the finest examples from the golden age of Swiss watchmaking during the Industrial Revolution, when noted makers such as Jaquet-Droz and Piguet & Meylan married technology and artistry to create miraculous objects in miniature.

Among the Swiss enamelled automata, a ‘Singing Bird Scent Flask’, made for the Chinese market and attributed to Jaquet-Droz & Leschot (Geneva, circa 1785) sold for $2.53 million, well over its estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million.

The flask was purchased by famed Swiss collector Maurice Sandoz in 1942 from the New York dealer, A La Vieille Russie, for $2,997, and entered its most recent collection in 1957. The automaton features an articulated ivory bird – measuring just 12 mm tall – which is accompanied by a highly intricate, miniature organ to replicate the bird’s song. The superbly decorated and constructed scent flask is covered in enamel and jewels, centered by a recessed medallion with a magnificent scene that showcases a varicoloured gold sculpture representing a branch with leaves with the singing bird automaton perched atop.

Among vintage watches, a 1951 Patek Philippe pink gold Ref 605 ‘Heures Universelles’ with an enamel dial and carrying an estimate of $200,000-400,000 sold for $982,000 setting an auction record for a world time pocket watch by the manufacturer.

A similar example with serial numbers differing in only one digit belongs to the Patek Philippe Museum Collection – in fact, the two examples differ only in that the cities in the museum’s example are listed in French, whereas the present example lists the cities in English. With its unbroken provenance, stunning condition and the sheer rarity of such an example, the present piece is a true trophy, says Sotheby’s.

Among modern watches, Richard Mille’s 2013 ‘Yohan Blake’, named after the famous Jamaican sprinter, sold for $478,000. The RM59-01 is a fascinating case study as it presented the unique challenge to create an exceptionally aerodynamic piece of absolute lightness and ruggedness to withstand the challenges of the track and not interfere with its wearer’s speed. To that end, Richard Mille incorporated nearly weightless carbon nanotubes into the case, which absorb shock.


Meanwhile, a Sotheby’s sale of impressionist and modern art achieved the second highest total for any sale ever held in London. Also held in June, the evening sale realised a total of £178.6 million ($282.1 million) over a pre-sale estimate of £140.3-203.2 million ($221.5-320 million) and was led by Gustav Klimt’s 1902 Portrait of Gertrud Loew, which sold for £24.8 million ($39.1 million), setting the second highest price for a portrait by the artist at auction.

The sale also saw a new record for any sculpture by Edgar Degas, with his Petite danseuse de quatorze ans (1922) fetching £15.8 million ($24.9 million).

The strong total follows recent exceptional results in both Sotheby’s London and New York over the last year. In November 2014, Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in New York fetched a record $422.1 million, the highest total in company history, while a May 2015 New York sale notched up $386.3 million, the second highest in company history.

A February 2015 London sale, meanwhile, fetched £186.5 million ($280.1.8 million), the highest total for any auction held in London.

Melanie Clore, Chairman, Sotheby’s Europe & Co-Chairman Worldwide, Impressionist & Modern Art, says: “The result is testament to the truly outstanding quality of the works on offer. To follow our highest totals for Impressionist and Modern art sales in New York, with another sensational sale in London, emphasises the strength of what is undoubtedly a truly global market.”

Gustav Klimt’s 1902 Portrait of Gertrud Loew (Gertha Felsőványi) sold after a ten-minute bidding battle for £24.8 million ($39.1 million), the second highest price for a portrait by the artist at auction.

Suprematism, 18th Construction (1915), an extremely rare work by Kazmir Malevich, made £21.4 million ($33.8 million), the second highest price for the artist at auction.

Max Lieberman’s Zwei Reiter am Strand nach links (Two Riders on a Beach), the first work to be sold from Cornelius Gurlitt’s trove of art, sold for £1.87 million ($2.95 million), well over its estimate of £350,000-550,000/$550,000-860,000.

Among other results, the first version of Edouard Manet’s famous Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère (1881) fetched £16.9 million/$26.8 million. The same work made £4.4 million ($6.28 million) when it last sold at Sotheby’s in London in June 1994.

Sculpture performed well, with seven works netting £22.1 million ($34.7 million) led by Edgar Degas’s Petite danseuse de quatorze ans (1922).


Earlier in April this year, a Sotheby’s sale of Orientalist paintings, the fourth in the series launched in 2012, fetched a total of £5.8 million ($9.08 million).

With private and institutional buyers from around the world, including Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and Aisa, the success of the London sale was testament to the continued and growing appeal of the genre.

The highlight of the London sale was Ludwig Deutsch’s 1893 painting The Palace Guard, an icon on Orientalist art (featured in Arabian Knight’s 2015 Winter edition) which sold for £989,000 ($1.46 million).

Deutsch’s other masterpiece, In the Madrasa, was another highlight, selling for £821,000 ($1.22 million).

A new world auction record was set for Fausto  Zonaro, the last court painter to the Sultans, whose rediscovered canvas of a street celebration in Constantinople titled Bayram (The Celebration) sold for £941,000 ($1.39 million).

Overall, five of the top 10 prices established records for the artists at auction: buyers in the Turkey, Mena (Middle East and North Africa) and Asia region accounted for 68 per cent of the total hammer turnover in the auction.

The paintings in the Orientalist sale are inspired by the lands in the 19th century known as the Orient, from Morocco in the west through Turkey, Egypt and the Levant, as far as India in the east. They provide a fascinating insight into the culture, costumes and landscapes of these regions from 1830 to 1930.

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