Painting by 19-Year-Old Schiele fetches S$15 million at auction

Gallery assistants pose with Egon Schiele's painting, Selbstbildnis mit gespreizten Fingern (Self-Portrait with Spread Fingers).
Gallery assistants pose with Egon Schiele's painting, Selbstbildnis mit gespreizten Fingern (Self-Portrait with Spread Fingers). PHOTO: REUTERS

(BLOOMBERG) - A fragmented self-portrait by then 19-year- old Egon Schiele fetched 7.3 million pounds (S$15 million), leading Christie's auction of Impressionist and modern art in London.

The Tuesday (Feb 2) evening sale tallied 66.4 million pounds, within the estimated presale range but 17 per cent below the company's similar auction a year ago.

The event was the first major auction of 2016 as Christie's celebrates its 250th anniversary.

The world's leading auction house by revenue, Christie's last week reported a 5 per cent decline in 2015 sales after five straight years of growth, even as its Impressionist and modern art tally rose 57 per cent.

The art market's outlook is less optimistic because of roiling equity and bond markets, according to a recent survey by ArtTactic.

Modern German and Austrian artists fared well in London. Schiele's 1909 self-portrait depicting a fresh-faced youth, with long, knobby fingers, was the top lot, selling within the estimated presale range of 6 million pounds to 8 million pounds. Its consignor bought the work for 4.5 million pounds in 2007 and got a hammer price of 6.4 million pounds today, a 42 per cent increase.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's painting of a woman in a red hat sold for 4.8 million pounds, surpassing the high estimate of 2.5 million pounds. The sale prices include buyer's commission paid to the auction house; the estimates don't. The sellers bought the painting at Sotheby's in 1981, according to the catalog, when it fetched US$170,000.

Eiffel Tower Georg Scholz's 1920s cityscape realized 1.2 million pounds, more than doubling the high presale estimate of 500,000 pounds. Schiele's 1910 drawing of a young girl in a long black-and-white checkered dress got 782,500 pounds, surpassing the high estimate.

Marc Chagall's 1928 canvas depicting newlyweds by the Eiffel Tower sold for 7 million pounds, slightly surpassing the high estimate. The sellers had paid US$600,000 for it at auction in 1982. A later Chagall painting of a levitating violinist, which had been bought in November 2013 for US$2.2 million, hammered at 1.5 million pounds on Tuesday, roughly breaking even for the owner.

A separate Surrealist sale at Christie's tallied 29.5 million pounds, bringing the total for the two Tuesday auctions to 95.9 million pounds, on target, but a 35 per cent decline from a year ago.  The Art of the Surreal auction was led by Max Ernst's 1941 painting The Stolen Mirror, which sold for 7.6 million pounds, towards the lower end of its estimated range.

Sotheby's evening auctions of Impressionist, modern and Surrealist art are set for Wednesday.