A 1910 oil painting on board by Wassily Kandinsky, "Skizze zu Composition II (Fragment)," sold here tonight at Christie's for $1.1 million, establishing a world-record price for a German Expressionist painting and for the artist. The painting came from the estate of his widow, Nina, who was murdered in Switzerland last year.
Earlier in the day, two key lots in the sale--paintings by James Mallord William Turner that had been expected to bring between $1 million and $1.5 million each--had been withdrawn after a temporary restraining order was issued by the Supreme Court of New York.
"Going to the Ball: San Martino, Venice" and "Returning from the Ball: S. Martha, Venice," both painted in 1846, were to have been the first two lots of the important evening sale of Impressionist and Modern pictures.
David Bathurst, president of Christie's and the auctioneer tonight, announced the withdrawal. Many of the bidders who had come only for the Turners left. The room was hot and crowded as 61 lots were hammered down with good results overall, capping Christie's auction season. The sale brought a total of $6.54 million.
Record prices were also set for Mary Cassatt, the American Impressionist painter, by her c. 1878 "La Liseuse (Lydia Cassatt)," which brought $700,000; for Giorgio Morandi, by his c. 1952 "Natura Morta," which brought $135,000; and for Sonia Delaunay, by her 1916 "La Marche au Minho," which brought $90,000, topping its presale estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.
High prices, although they were not records, were also paid for a Constantin Brancusi, entitled "Tete de Femme," which brought $700,000, just short of the Brancusi record price of $750,000; for two sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, "Femme de Venise VI" (1956), which brought $360,000, and "Homme Qui Marche," (c. 1949), which brought $320,000; and for a Henri Fantin-Latour, "Petit Bouquet," (1891), which brought $170,000, topping its presale estimate of $80,000 to $100,000.
The bidding for the Cassatt stopped in the sales room at $750,000, below the reserve (minimum) price set by the consigner, businessman and well-known collector Norton Simon. Within minutes after the auction, Simon was reached over the telephone at his home in Los Angeles and agreed to allow Christie's to sell the painting on his behalf for $700,000.
According to a spokesman for Christie's, "this is fairly unusual because we have to represent the consigner's interest, and he has to be available immediately to make any changes in the initial arrangement."
Also unusual was the withdrawal of the Turners, which was the result of a disagreement involving the seller, Harry P. Oakes, representing the holding company, Oakpict Inc., and his sister, Nancy Oakes Huene, a shareholder in Oakpict.
Huene filed suit on Monday claiming that Oakpict was not authorized to consign the paintings for sale. The paintings had descended in the family from Sir Harry and Lady Oakes, who purchased them through an agent in 1937 from Agnew's in London. Sir Harry, a millionaire miner, was murdered gruesomely in the Bahamas in 1943, allegedly by either the Mafia or the Nazis, although the murderer has never been found. Lady Oakes died last year in Palm Beach.
(Spokesmen for the Oakes family were unavailable for comment when an attempt was made to reach them in the Bahamas today.)
Christie's, acting on behalf of the seller as exclusive agent for auction, has invested a considerable sum in advertising and handling for the pictures. According to a provision of the temporary restraining order, a bond of $105,000 has been posted by Huene to cover damages caused by the delay. A hearing has been scheduled for next Monday in the chambers of Judge Donald J. Sullivan to determine whether Huene has just grounds to bar the sale of the pictures.
Paintings by Turner, heralded today as the precursors of Impressionism, usually bring top dollar at auction. In fact, the last Turner painting that was sold, "Juliet and Her Nurse," which was auctioned at Sotheby's in New York in May 1980, brought $6.4 million, a record price for any work of art at auction. Turner's works, however, were unpopular in the artist's lifetime andhe left most of them to the British government.
Christie's intends to schedule another auction of the paintings when the temporary restraining order is lifted, barring any further complications. And why not? They already have the catalogues printed.