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Gavel-to-Gavel Coverage

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The Year’s Blockbusters
At the Impressionist and Modern auctions, a single big-ticket item can mean the difference between a solid sale and a resounding success. Last fall, Sotheby’s sold Gauguin’s Maternité for $39 million, or 20 percent of its entire auction. Then there was the $104 million Picasso, which accounted for a third of Sotheby’s New York spring 2004 Imp-and-Mod revenues. Christie’s opens the high-stakes sales on November 1, anticipating a buyer for a Toulouse-Lautrec at $20 million to $25 million. If La blanchisseuse (1886–87) makes its estimate, the wistful portrait of a pretty washerwoman trying to get through an honest day’s work would account for around 15 percent of the total, and her iridescent white blouse and coppery hair may prove fetching enough.

Without a blockbuster Picasso or Max Beckmann this season, Sotheby’s is spreading the pressure more evenly. Its top lot is a $12 million–to–$16 million Monet, a dusky Venice view called Le Grand Canal (1908), followed by Matisse’s sitting-room fancy of his two favored models, Robe jaune et robe arlequin (Nezy et Lydia), from 1941, for $9 million to $12 million.


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