Bids rising above the estimates, busy telephone banks, non-stop internet bidding, the saleroom at covid-restriction capacity - except for the masks worn by the bidders and staff in the saleroom, it could have been a scene from one of the art market's best moments of the past 15 years. Such was the atmosphere at Koller's
auctions in Zurich this week, and with an overall sales rate of 135% of the pre-sale estimates (not including buyer's premium), the sales gave a very encouraging sign that the auction market is alive and well.
The Swiss Art auction on 4 December featured a sublime landscape by Ferdinand Hodler, 'Lake Thun and the Niesen' (lot 3031). Purchased by the great-grandmother of the consignor at an exhibition in Solothurn in 1913, the painting had remained in the same family ever since, while many other examples of this subject entered museum collections. After a prolonged telephone bidding battle which took the price to three times its pre-sale estimate, the work sold for CHF 4.05 million. Also by Hodler, a head study for 'View to Infinity' more than tripled its estimate as well at CHF 1 million (lot 3029).
Other Swiss artists in demand at the auction were Albert Anker, with a touching portrait of a young girl practicing her penmanship (lot 3014, CHF 545 000), Giovanni Giacometti's view of a snow-covered Engadine village (lot 3052) that sold above the upper estimate at 269 000, another winter scene by Gottardo Segantini that fetched more than three times its estimate (lot 3059, CHF 293 000), and a striking work by Felix Vallotton, 'Baigneuse aux mouettes' (Bather with seagulls) that more than doubled its estimate at CHF 183 000 (lot 3036).
A mature work by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (lot 3245) in the Impressionist & Modern Art auction on 4 December, 'Pines in the Spessart', tripled its pre-sale estimate at CHF 452 000. Other works by German Expressionists included a landscape by Alexej von Jawlensky ('Herbst I', lot 3220) that sold above its upper estimate for CHF 128 000, and a spring landscape by Otto Dix that also topped its pre-sale estimate at CHF 80 000 (lot 3254). A drawing of a female worker by Käthe Kollwitz fetched more than five times its pre-sale estimate after a bidding battle that drove the final price to CHF 80 000 (lot 3218).
Preparatory studies by Christo & Jeanne-Claude for several of their projects topped the results in the PostWar & Contemporary Art auction on 5 December, including 'The Umbrellas (Joint Project for Japan and USA)', 1987, that nearly doubled its upper estimate at CHF 390 000 (lot 3458), and 'The Pont Neuf, Wrapped (Project for Paris)', 1985, that fetched CHF 269 000 (lot 3459). The bidding throughout the sale was marked by a distinct enthusiasm and determination to acquire works. For example, a grid painting by Otto Piene, 'Rasterbild 2' (lot 3410), was the subject of intense competition, more than doubling its estimate at CHF 256 000. Works by American artist Mark Tobey continue to be sought after, such as 'Circular Rhythms', 1965 (lot 3406) that sold for CHF 122 000, and an untitled work from 1967 that fetched CHF 116 000 (lot 3424).
Graphic works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol dominated the Prints & Multiples auction results on 5 December, such as a colour screenprint from Warhol's 'Campbell's Soup I' series, 1968, that realised CHF 104 000 (lot 3753), and another of Marilyn Monroe from 1967 (lot 3755) that sold for CHF 98 000. 'Françoise au noeud dans les cheveux', a litho from 1946 by Picasso, garnered CHF 54 000, and a linocut of another of Picasso's partners, 'Grande tête de Jacqueline au chapeau', sold for CHF 110 000 (lot 3680). Few lots remained unsold in the sale of over 200 lots, and numerous prices, such as for Frank Stella's 'V-Series' portfolio from 1968 (lot 3706, CHF 67 000), were quite strong.
The other auctions at Koller during this successful week were also quite impressive, such as the white-glove Watches auction on 2 December: 100% sold by lot and over 140% by value. The top lot was a Worldtime Chronograph wristwatch by Patek Philippe (lot 2852) that sold for CHF 71 000. The Asian Art auctions on 3 December were received enthusiastically by numerous bidders from East Asia, particularly for the private collection of modern Chinese ink paintings, exhibited by Koller in Beijing previous to the auction, and presented in a separate catalogue. Several works sold for multiples of the pre-sale estimates, such as a view of the Great Wall by He Haixia that fetched CHF 208 000 against an estimate of CHF 15 000/25 000 (lot 163). A surprise success in the general Asian Art auction the same day was a set of four 19th-century Korean paintings (lot 422) that sold far above their estimate, for a staggering CHF 415 000.