Matisse and Monet Smash Records at Christie’s Rockefeller Auction

<230 -->Last evening, New York’s art patrons gathered at Christie’s auction house in Midtown Manhattan for the opening sale of the Rockefeller Collection.<232 --> The works being auctioned were pieces of 19th- and 20th-century art collected by Peggy and David Rockefeller over their lifetimes, in addition to some oeuvres inherited from previous generations.

With 100 percent of the proceeds promised to charity, the bidding was fierce – and the first sale of the series totaled $646.1 million, setting the record for the highest sum ever achieved in a single-owner sale. The previous high was $484 million, garnered in Paris in 2009 with the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and his longtime partner, Pierre Bergé.

With a total of seven in-house auctions plus one online sale, the Rockefeller collection was originally estimated to top $1 billion, though with more than half of that sum achieved last night, the gargantuan estimate is sure to increase.

<234 -->It’s already being hailed as the sale of the century. Seven new auction records were set for world-renowned artists including Claude Monet, Henri Matisse,<236 --> Eugène Delacroix, Armand Séguin, Giorgio Morandi, Odilon Redon, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. All of the 44 works on offer were sold, though that comes as no surprise, as Christie’s guaranteed the entire collection.

Nymphéas en fleur by Claude Monet.

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<247 -->The most heated bidding war of the evening was over Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur,<249 --> which was painted by the artist during a burst of creativity between 1914 and 1917. First acquired in 1956 under the recommendation of Alfred Barr, the work debuted at a starting bid of $38 million and quickly climbed toward the mid-50s. For nearly 20 minutes the price inched upward in increments of $500,000, prompting auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen to call the back-and-forth a “tennis game with five racquets.” The hammer price totaled $75,000,000, though with the buyer’s premium the total reached $84.7 million, beating out Monet’s previous auction record of $81.4 million, set in 2016.

Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie once belonged to Gertrude Stein.

Image courtesy of Christie’s New York.

<260 -->While Monet’s masterpiece invoked the tensest bidding war of the night, the star lot was Picasso’s 1905 Fillette à la corbeille fleurie,<262 --> which had been estimated at $100 million. Bidding opened at $90,000,000 and quickly jumped to $98 million before settling at $102 million. Despite Pylkkänen’s best efforts to coax more buyers into raising their paddles, the entire affair lasted less than three minutes and culminated in a total of $115 million with premium.

“It is challenging to express in words the many emotions our family is feeling as we celebrate the opening night of this sale week devoted to The Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection,” said the couple’s son, David Rockefeller, Jr., in a statement. “Chief among them is pride and gratitude.”

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