Sargent breaks a new record at Sotheby’s auction of « American Paintings »



Sotheby’s auction of « American Paintings » last night (New York, Wednesday 1 December) was a sensational success. The 274 lots sold generated USD 74 million, the highest ever turnover from an auction of American art.

The highlight of the evening was John Singer Sargent’s « Group with Parasols » which went under the hammer for USD 23,528,000. In the space of a few minutes, the painting from the Rita and Daniel Fraad collection doubled its initial high estimate of USD 12 million. Like Pablo Picasso’s record for « Garçon à la Pipe », Sargent’s painting also dates back to 1905, apparently a vintage year for art collectors. The price paid dwarfs the existing record for an American impressionist painting (USD 10.1 million for Sargent’s « Cashmere » in 1996).

From the outset of the auction, the mood among collectors was distinctly competitive. The first lot, a painting by Gari Melchers entitled « Portrait of Mrs. H » estimated at USD 80,000-120,000 triggered fierce bidding. It finally went under the hammer at USD 932,000 including fees. Even after the bidding for Sargent’s painting, lot number 7, the buying frenzy continued to rage. Among the biggest surprises was the sale of two paintings by the Ashcan School artist George Wesley Bellows, « The Knock Out » and « Kids », that fetched USD 5 million and USD 6.2 million respectively. Both paintings doubled their estimates. The Artprice Index for Bellows has risen 130% since 2001. Another surprise was Everett Shinn’s « Stage Scene » that raised USD 7.8 million. Along with John Singer Sargent and George Henry Durrie, Everett Shin was the third artist to have broken his personal record at this auction of « American Paintings ».

In this context, this evening’s auction at Christie’s of « Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture » might also spring some big surprises.