NEW YORK, JULY 18 -- Breaking the summer doldrums of auction sale news, Sotheby's announced today that it will sell the paintings and French furniture of the late screen enchantress Greta Garbo in November, with expectations in excess of $20 million. Three paintings by Renoir represent the lion's share of that figure. They will be dispatched first in Sotheby's impressionist evening sale on Nov. 13, two days before the single-owner evening sale.
Garbo, who died in New York in April at the age of 84, kept her collection as secret as her personal life. "There were only a handful of people who knew about the Renoirs," said David Nash, Sotheby's head of fine arts, "and I was not one of them." Nash estimated that the reclusive actress paid no more than $10,000 in the early 1940s for Renoir's 1906 portrait of his young son, "Coco Reading." The child's nanny, Gabrielle, is also pictured. She was a favorite model of the painter during his late years. It carries a preliminary estimate of $8 million to $10 million.
Garbo left her entire estate to a niece, Gray Reisfield of New Jersey, who chose Sotheby's over arch rival Christie's for the plum commission. Christie's has sold a number of prominent Hollywood collections, most recently that of actor-novelist Kirk Douglas. "It was definitely competitive and went down to the wire," said a crestfallen Christie's spokesman.
Christie's announcement of the sale of a late van Gogh still life, "Vase With Daisies and Poppies" -- with flowers reportedly picked from Dr. Gachet's garden in Auvers, France -- was overshadowed by the Garbo news. The van Gogh is estimated to bring between $12 million and $16 million in the Nov. 14 sale.
The French paintings and furnishings -- and also a surprisingly strong selection of 20th-century paintings by German expressionist Alexj von Jawlensky that offset the sweeter Renoirs -- were housed in Garbo's East 52nd Street apartment overlooking the East River. "Coco Reading" hung over the fireplace.
A second portrait, of Renoir's nephew Edmund from 1889, is expected to sell for between $5 million and $6 million. A third, lesser Renoir, "Confidence," is estimated at $2 million to $3 million. The current record for a Renoir is $78 million for the 1876 "At the Moulin de la Galette," which sold at Sotheby's in May to a Japanese industrialist; it is the second most expensive painting in auction history. The Renoirs and a number of yet to be selected works from the Garbo collection will tour Japan in a pre-sale fall promotion.
"There won't be any pressure to put a Garbo factor into the estimates," said John Marion, Sotheby's New York chairman and star auctioneer. "The estimates are conservative. The works of art in the end will stand on their own."
But a moment later, after describing the upcoming sojourn of the Garbo highlights to Tokyo, Marion said, "I hope the combination of Renoir and Garbo will be irresistible to everyone."
Asked if the auction house guaranteed any part of the collection, a tactic that has benefited Sotheby's in past sales, Marion emphatically said, "No." The guarantee, recently adopted by Christie's as well, assures the seller of a minimum price prior to the actual sale, regardless of the outcome.