A rare and colorful expressionistic oil painting by the Russian Wassily Kandinsky sold here tonight at auction for $1.1 million, nearly matching the artist's auction record. That record, $1.21 million, was set last spring for another oil.
"Nude" (1911), which was consigned from the noted California collection of the Frederick and Marcia Weisman Family, was the top lot of an unusual sale here at Sotheby's new ultra-modern auction headquarters. The sale covered most major movements between 1870 and 1970 and offered the work from two major collections, as well as three lots from the Corcoran Art Gallery. The sale total, $6.14 million including a 10 percent buyer's premium, surpassed most expectations.
David Nash, head of Sotheby's fine art department, said, "I am very pleased with the buoyancy and high-level bidding. I did not think this was our strongest sale and it turned out better than I expected."
Important modern drawings from the pioneer collection of Mr. and Mrs. Georges E. Seligmann, sold as the first 23 lots in the sale, brought generally high bids. Drawings are usually not sold in the evening sales, but these were particularly fine examples of the medium. The highest price was paid for Pablo Picasso's "Nez Quart de Brie" (1907), which brought $187,000. This rare drawing, among Picasso's first studies of African masks, which was purchased tonight by an anonymous bidder, was originally purchased by the Seligmanns from Alice B. Toklas. She and her companion, Gertrude Stein, had acquired it directly from the artist. Another Picasso, "La Coiffure (Woman Combing Her Hair)" (1906), brought $110,000.
Other high lots from various consigners include: Pierre Auguste Renoir's pastel "Young Woman Reading" (1895), which brought $324,500; a plaster Cubist sculpture of two figures embracing and kissing, "The Kiss" (1907), by Constantin Brancusi, which brought $137,500; Franz Kline's "Black and White" (1951), from the Weisman collection, brought $95,700.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art offered two pictures for sale to raise money for new acquisitions, which it does from time to time. Renoir's small oil "Still Life With Peaches" (1908) was sold for $42,000. Odilon Redon's "Strange Orchid," an undated watercolor, sold for $9,000.
One picture, however, was consigned by the Corcoran for an unusual purpose. "Chrysanthemums in a Basket" (1877) by Henri Fantin-Latour was offered on behalf of the late Elizabeth Donner Norment, a Washington patron, to raise money for new air conditioning recently installed in the gallery. Bidding for the picture only reached $20,000, and it failed to sell.
This was the first evening sale conducted at Sotheby's new American headquarters on 72nd Street and York Avenue, and the wide and eclectic range attracted more than 1,000 dealers, collectors and observers.
The main sale began on a good note with several lots of bronzes by Edgar Degas exceeding their estimated sale prices. "Rearing Horse" (1870-71) was sold for $121,000, nearly doubling the presale prediction.
The real excitement, of course, was the Kandinsky. More than the usual number of bidders entered the fray, and competition was keen between those on the telephone, absentee mail-order bids, and those there in person. There was a brief pause at $900,000, and John Marion, tonight's auctioneer, and president of Sotheby's in America, coaxed a new bidder into the competition. When bidding finally reached $1 million, Marion said with a sigh, "I knew we'd get there." Shortly thereafter the hammer went down and the audience let out a brief round of applause.