La Gazette Drouot
Enchères - La Collection Lefèvre
André Lefèvre Collection: €21.8 M
With this sale, the Paris market once again proved itself equal to London and New York in a realm where competition is fierce: Modern Art.

On 21 December, Drouot closed its doors on one of the high points of 2007, when €21,767,786 including buyer’s premium, were amassed for nine works from the former André Lefèvre collection! These were put up for sale by two of his heirs.
At a time when prices fetched by works of art, particularly Modern and Contemporary art, are going at levels beyond all comprehension, we look back over the history of the André Lefèvre collection, so as to get an idea of how successful the auction really was. All the modern drawings and paintings in this collection had been the subject of four sales between 1964 and 1967, one each year, totalling FF19,798,750 (€22,618,550). Prices change with the times...

In fact, this sum was acquired at the end of four stages, when all in all, over 400 works were put up for sale – and by no means the minor ones. In 1965, Connaissance des Arts listed the following: "23 Juan Grís, 30 Légers, 15 Mirós, 15 Modiglianis, 52 Picassos"! The second Lefèvre sale (25 November 1965), which alone fetched €11,727,500, i.e. €13 779 813 at today's value, contained the most precious nuggets of the collection. For the first time ever, a Cubist painting – a 1914 canvas by Georges Braque, L’Homme à la guitare (130 x 73 cm) – registered a bid of over one million: FF1,560,000 (€1,833,000 today). Meanwhile, Amedeo Modigliani fetched FF1.2 M (€1,410,000) with Young Woman of the people (102 x 65 cm) of 1918, and FF500,000 with the Portrait of Max Jacob (73 x 60 cm) of 1916. Picasso contented himself with FF650,000 (€763,750), for the Still life with steer's skull (130 x 97 cm) of 1942, and FF620,000 for the Sleeping woman (81 x 65 cm) of 1908. However, we should note that André Lefèvre was extremely generous to the Musée National d’Art Moderne in leaving it a superb Picasso gouache of 1905, Three Dutch Women. The collector in fact left the museum some thirty works, not counting his donations to other museums, such as Balzac's bookcase to the eponymous museum.  Lefèvre was also a booklover...

While in 1965, a 1933 Composition (130 x 97 cm) by Miró fetched FF170,000 (€199,750 at today's value), the Blue Star reproduced here went for €9,350,000 in 2007. Its highest estimate was €7 M. Its total, including buyer’s premium, of €11,586,520 ($16,639,170) also set the world record for the artist. In 1965, this painting went for FF130,000 (€152,750), precisely to one of the collector's nephews. The previous record for Miró, £6,628,000 including costs ($13,101,236), was set on 18 June 2007 at Christie’s in London. This was for Le Coq in gouache, watercolour and wax crayon of 1940 (63.5 x 48.9 cm). We should note that our Blue Star was considered by the artist himself as a key work – "in it is found, unusually, the representation of human figures and cosmic signs brought together in a single image" –, as witness Rosalind Krauss's letter requesting its loan for a retrospective staged in 1972 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The other painting by Miró in our sale, L’oiseau of 1926 (73 x 92 cm – see detail reproduced on page 22 of Gazette no. 44), at €5 M doubled its low estimate. This featured in the last Lefèvre sale on 24 November 1967, where it fetched FF76,000 (€84,650). The few touches of paint composing this ascetic work are applied to raw canvas, symbolising a primordial element, earth.

Joan Miró (1893-1983), Blue Star, 1927, oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm
World record for the artist.
Juan Grís: €1,750,000
The third and final bid exceeding a million, €1,750,000 (€2,168,600 including costs), enabled Juan Grís to register a French record. This lay within the estimate range, and was for Le joueur de guitare (100 x 65 cm), an oil on canvas of 1918. On 25 November 1965, it had fetched FF205,000 (€240,875 at today's value). Very few of Grís' works are found on the market. According to Artprice, only fourteen works were up for sale in 2005, and thirteen the following year. The previous French record for Grís was in 1991. On 9 April of that year, Maîtres Binoche & Godeau sold for FF 13.9 M a painting from the Hoppenot estate, Guitare (73 x 60 cm). We can note that at like-for-like value (€2.71 M), this work preserves its record. The same year, the SCP Briest offered two paintings by Grís for sale from the former collection of Maurice Raynal. His portrait of the latter's wife, Germaine, painted in 1912 (55 x 38 cm), changed hands for the sum of FF9.5 M (€1.85 M), while that of Maurice Raynal, a painting of the year before, fetched FF8.3 M (€1.65 M). The other painting by Juan Grís in our sale, Le Broc (46 x 33 cm) dated 1920, went for €440,000, surpassing its estimate. In the 1966 sale, it registered FF130,000 (€148,742 at today's value).
L’étang-la-Ville: halte (see enclosed) which went for €490,000 – pulverising its estimate – set the world record for a work by Henri Laurens other than a sculpture. Our gouache came fifth in the ranking for the artist (source: Artnet). Then we have to jump to the twenty-eighth place in this list to find a gouache and pastel Tête de femme de 1915 (60.4 x 40 cm), sold for €175,000 on 22 June 2006 with Calmels-Cohen at Drouot. In 1967, our "Halte" fetched the sum of FF26,000 (€28,960 at today's value).
At the Lefèvre sale of 1966, a gouache and collage of 1919 by the same artist, Composition à la guitare (26.5 x 17 cm), reached FF16,200 (€18,535); in 2007, it required no less than €72,000. Now we pay tribute to Fernand Léger, whose gouache of 1943, Les Plongeurs noirs (375 x 275 cm), went up to €48,000 (FF5,500 in 1964, i.e. €6,625), while the 1950 watercolour Le Pot de fleurs (38 x 25 cm) fetched €56,000.
A single work found no takers, and was in fact considered too expensive by a number of observers: the Picasso watercolour of 1902-1903, L’Absinthe, le poète Cornuty, also reproduced in Gazette no. 44. In contrast, a Cubist pastel, Nature morte de 1921 (245 x 32 cm), exceeded its estimate at €360,000. At the third sale of the André Lefèvre collection, staged at the Palais Galliera on 29 November 1966, L’Absinthe went for FF160,000 (€183,070 at today's value), thus equalling a large (116 x 89 cm) Composition by Miró of 1925. The peak was then achieved with a painting by Derain, Le Faubourg de Collioure of 1905 (60 x 73 cm), pre-empted by the Musées Nationaux at FF500,000 (€572 085 at today's value).
Friday 21 December 2007, Drouot, room 1-7.
Claude Aguttes auction house. M. Coissard.
La Gazette Drouot N°1 - 11 janvier 2008 - Sylvain Alliod

Henri Laurens (1885-1954), L’Etang-la-Ville: Halte, 1917, gouache and gummed paper, 50 x 34 cm
World record for a work of the artist other than sculpture..

Joan Miró (1893-1983),
L’Oiseau, 1926, oil on canvas.

Juan Grís (1887-1927),
Le Joueur de guitare, 1918,
oil on canvas, 100 x 65 cm.