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Satisfaction Guaranteed?

Christie’s goes big; Sotheby’s, even bigger.


Modigliani's 1919 Jeanne Hebuterne (Devant une Porte)  

On November 3, Christie’s launches the season’s fall auctions with its Impressionist and Modern offerings, followed by postwar and contemporary art on November 10. These are the houses’ do-or-die days, and both have wooed big sellers as if they were swing voters. Christie’s is betting its “Imp and Mod” sale will top $112 million.

Sure to sell: Monet’s Londres, le Parlement, Effet de Soleil dans le Brouillard (1904) has been in the same private collection for 100 years. Monet painted the view nineteen times; fifteen of the examples are in museums. Calculated to make casino magnates swoon, with an estimate of $12 million to $18 million. In Pissarro’s four-part Les Quatre Saisons (1872–73), winter is the oddest season; the painter abandons country skies in favor of chunky snowdrifts and smokestacks. The group is estimated at $8 million to $12 million, modestly above the $6.8 million it drew in 1991. Miró’s 1938 La Caresse des Étoiles was the artist’s bid to outdo Guernica. Topical—plus, so lively! This work, too, has never been auctioned before, has a fair estimate of $6 million to $8 million, and comes with a dramatic backstory: In newly liberated Paris, a collector traded his overcoat for the painting, bringing it to the U.S. in a blanket.

Likeliest bargain: Eugène Boudin’s 1886 Scène de Plage aux Environs de Trouville is a breezy beach party, easy to fall in love with at $250,000 to $350,000. Édouard Vuillard’s daring (if tiny) proto-abstract portrait Femme au Col de Fourrure (ca. 1890–91) has a forgiving estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.

The next day, Sotheby’s will up the ante, putting at least $208 million worth of Impressionist and Modern works on the block, and following that with its November 9 contemporary sale. Out of either confidence or hubris, the house has made season guarantees to sellers of nearly $130 million. Sure to sell: Modigliani’s 1919 Jeanne Hebuterne (Devant une Porte) is perhaps the most anticipated of the season, with an estimate of $20 million to $30 million. A rare period-perfect Mondrian, 1942’s New York/Boogie Woogie, is proof that less is more: Serious bids are expected to start at $20 million, high for the artist, since this work wasn’t mucked up by mid-century restorers.

Likeliest bargain: A fetching little Henri Fantin-Latour still life, Lilas (1872), is innocence embodied at $400,000 to $600,000. Manet’s Marine à Arcachon (Arcachon, Beau Temps) (1871), for $900,000 to $1.2 million, does everything but toss salt spray off the canvas.

At this price? Paul Gauguin’s Maternité (II), from 1899, is a masterpiece of Utopian longing, but the estimate of $40 million to $50 million is bullish. All the same, there may be a weepy romantic willing to shell out for the image of a 17-year-old Polynesian girl—said to be the artist’s mistress, nursing his son.


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