Three works of art, including one by Pablo Picasso and another by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, were stolen from Greece’s National Gallery on Monday, police said.
Thieves broke into the gallery in the early hours and snatched Picasso’s 1939 painting “Woman’s head,” donated to the Greeks by the artist in 1949, and Mondrian’s “Mill” dated 1905, police said.
They also took a sketch by Italian painter Guglielmo Caccia, which was donated to the gallery in 1907.
“It all happened in seven minutes,” said a police official who declined to be named.
To mislead the guard, the thieves activated the gallery’s alarm system several times before breaking into the building at 4:30 a.m. (0230 GMT). The guard turned off the alarm only to later spot one of the thieves through the motion detector.
Before escaping, the thief dropped another 1905 Mondrian painting, the “Landscape,” police said.
It was not clear how many people were involved in the theft. Police were looking for suspects and the art in Greece and abroad.
In October, police in Serbia recovered two paintings by Picasso stolen in 2008 from a gallery in Switzerland and worth millions of dollars.
Greece recovered in September a painting by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens stolen from a museum in Belgium in 2001 and arrested two Greeks who tried to sell it to undercover police for about 1 million euros.
Oh! To be Marie-Thérèse Walter!
Who’s the Most Popular Girl in the Art World?: Why, Marie-Thérèse Walter of course. Last year Picasso’s painting of his nymphet mistress set a $106.5 million world record at Christie’s New York, her portraits are the subject of a ravishing Picasso show at Gagosian, and now Christie’s will be presenting another of the artist’s libidinal paintings of her as its marquee lot in London on June 21. Titled “Jeune Fille Endormie,” the Fauve-paletted 1935 painting of Walter napping (while her vaginal hands hint at where the artist’s mind really is) will be hitting the block with a high estimate of £12 million ($13.55 million), with the proceeds pledged by its anonymous seller to the University of Sydney’s medical research fund. Not seen in public for 70 years, according to the auction house, the painting joins another Walter portrait that is heading to Sotheby’s in May.
LONDON—How many paintings does an American museum have to sell to raise funds for a single canvas by Russian modern painter Kazimir Malevich?
Recently, the Art Institute of Chicago sold a quartet of artworks for a combined £10 million ($16.1 million) at Christie’s to help pay for its recent purchase of a painting by Malevich, a pioneer in abstract art.
The museum gave up Georges Braque’s “Still Life with Guitar (Red Curtain)” for £3.9 million and Henri Matisse’s creamy “Woman in an Armchair” for £791,650. It also sold a pair of early Pablo Picasso works, including “On the Upper deck Crossing the Seine,” for £4.8 million.
These four works, which Christie’s priced to sell for a combined £7.2 million or more, were auctioned to help the Chicago museum pay an undisclosed sum for Malevich’s “Painterly Realism of a Football Player—Color Masses in the 4th Dimension,” a jumble of colorful geometric shapes against a white background that the artist created in 1915.
“The Art Institute is very pleased with the results of tonight’s auction,” said institute spokeswoman Erin Hogan. “The four works at Christie’s had been considered for deaccession for some time—because curators felt that we had more important examples by these artists from the respective periods—and the timing was right for us considering the recent availability of a work by Kazimir Malevich.”
Malevich (1878-1935) is known for paving the way for modernism through such early examples of abstract art. He left “Painterly Realism” with friends in Europe a few years before the onset of World War II but died in Stalinist Russia before he could come back to fetch it. The work wound up hanging in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. It was restituted, along with several others, to the artist’s heirs three years ago.
Gagosian Gallery brokered the sale of “Painterly Realism” between the heirs and the Chicago museum last month.
Sotheby’s sold another of the restituted Malevich paintings from 1916, “Suprematist Composition,” to dealer David Nahmad for $60 million three years ago.
Museums tend to be castigated whenever they hawk wares from their own storehouses, but dealers called the Chicago swap a clever trade: The museum still has plenty of Impressionist and Cubist works in its collection, but this deal makes it the only U.S. museum besides New York’s Museum of Modern Art to boast a Malevich painting.
The deal also helped anchor Christie’s £61.8 million evening sale of Impressionist and modern art. That total fell midway between its presale expectations of £54.7 million to £81 million. Rival Sotheby’s brought in £68.8 million from a smaller sale of art from the same era the night before.
Besides the Chicago works, the biggest drama of the night came when Christie’s failed to sell its priciest piece, Paul Gauguin’s “Still Life with ‘Hope.’ ” The work was expected to sell for between £7 million and £10 million but stalled at £5.8 million and went unsold.
Collectors chased harder after Edgar Degas’ 1896 pastel, “Dancers in Yellow Skirts (Two Dancers in Yellow),” a charming glimpse of two back-stage ballerinas. It was priced to sell for up to £5 million but wound up selling to a telephone bidder for £5.4 million.
André Derain’s “Boats in Collioure,” a Fauve coastal scene dominated by a red, earthen foreground, sold for £5.8 million. It was expected to sell for between £4 million and £6 million.
A pair of telephone bidders — one from Russia — got into a lengthy bidding war over Pierre Bonnard’s “Terrace at Vernon,” a large sun-dappled landscape that was only expected to sell for up to £4 million. The Russian collector wound up winning it for £7.2 million, a new auction record for the artist.
With five art sales and auctions set to hit Hong Kong over the next week the city has been set upon by Asia’s collecting community - and the experts are saying that Western masters are all the rage in the region.
Leading international auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s are both showcasing their wares in Hong Kong this weekend, while a number of Asian sellers are also setting up shop trying to tap in to a market that - like most things in these parts - has been bolstered by the influx of money from cashed-up Chinese collectors.
And while in recent years most of the attention here was on the works of such contemporary Chinese artists as Zhang Xiaogang, it is now the likes of Picasso and Renoir that are attracting the top bids.
Seoul Auction - which is also in Hong Kong over the next week - sold Chagall’s Bestiaire et Musique for HK$32 million (3.1 million euros) to an Asian buyer, setting a record for a Western master in the region. And with more of that man’s work on the auction blocks, alongside Picassos, Renoirs, and Monets, dealers are expecting some spirited action.
“It is the trend to see a buyer who has finished buying [Asian art] now buying Western art,” Takashi Seki, president of Japan’ s Est-Ouest Auctions, told the “South China Morning Post.”
Hong Kong has established itself as the world’s third-largest art market outside of New York and London but selling the works of Western masters here is only a recent development. This week, for example, sees the first time Sotheby’s has offered such pieces, which will include Picasso’s Mère Tenant un Enfant (La Maternité), from the painter’s Blue Period.
“We know the buying power,” Sotheby’s Patti Wong said of Asian art collectors. “And we know their willingness to buy.”
After the buzz of expectation created by the London salerooms, they did produce a record series of Impressionist and Modern art auctions last week, but only just. Mid-way through the fifth and final session, the sales total crept past the previous record of £298 million, set in June 2008, finally ending up at £303 million. There were no celebrations, however, and a palpable air of disappointment pervaded. Strip away the auctioneers’ commissions, and the total was nearer £250 million, below the £300 to £450 million estimate for the series.
Things began badly at Bonhams, which sold none of its top lots. A Chagall painting, bursting with figures and energy, was estimated to fetch at least £1.2 million. But buyers were put off because it was said to have been painted over 30 years, and it bore a stamped rather than hand-written signature.
Although Sotheby’s sold most of its top lots, it was touch and go for several of them. The much-heralded Manet self-portrait sold, albeit for a record £22.4 million, on just a single bid on the low estimate from Franck Giraud, the dealer who bid a record £32 million on behalf of the Qatar royal family at the Yves Saint Laurent sale last year for a Matisse still life. And Russian interest appeared to have rescued a highly estimated Soutine portrait of a seated valet. The only visible bidder was Alex Lachman, a dealer from Cologne who advises Russian collectors, and who bought it on the low estimate for £7.9 million.
Occasionally, Russian or Ukrainian bidders locked horns with Americans to push the bidding up over estimates and to record levels for Andre Derain, whose fauvist landscape from the Ambroise Vollard collection sold for £16.5 million, and for a drawing by Matisse, whose reclining nude sold for £5.9 million.
Christie’s main sale set a new record for a UK auction at £153 million, but was, none the less, below its target. This was due mainly to the failure of a Monet painting for which £30 million was being asked. Neither the composition, a lily pond partly obscured by mist, nor the knowledge that it had been for sale privately before the auction, helped to justify the price. Another flop was a rare, early, and no doubt historically interesting painting by the German expressionist, Otto Dix, for which Christie’s was hoping to get a record £4 million. However, this was a case of something being just too rare for the market. The painting did not look like a typical Dix, and it, too, was unsold.
Carrying the day for Christie’s was Picasso’s blue period portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, which could now be on its way to the Far East. It was bought for £34.8 million for an anonymous client by Jen Lyn Low, a Christie’s expert in Chinese works of art, recently seconded to the Impressionist department to develop its business relations in Asia. But it hardly sparked a bidding war. Probably the most bullish area of the market was for late Picasso. Le Baiser (1969), a typically primitive depiction of a couple embracing, had been sent for sale by US newsprint magnate Peter Brant who had paid £2.8 million for it in 2003, a record for a late Picasso. Last week it sold for £12 million.
Failing to reap any rewards were a Matisse paper cut-out that had been unsold in New York last November with a $3 million to $4 million estimate, and was unsold again in spite of its vastly reduced £500,000 ($760,000) estimate, and a portrait of a showgirl by van Dongen that went through the roof in 2007 when it sold for quadruple estimate £1.7 million, but found no buyer this time to match that price.
Such failures, though, were the exception as a very solid 80 per cent of the works offered last week found buyers. The fragility shown at the top end of the market was because the estimates were too high. High estimates are set to meet sellers’ expectations, and are often the result of competition between the salerooms when trying to influence sellers where to sell. What with oil disasters and fears of a double-dip recession, the market has perhaps changed from two months ago, when the estimates were set still in the euphoria created by $100 million prices for Picasso and Giacometti.
Last week saw a correction to that euphoria; a correction that will have to be taken into account for the next big Impressionist sales in New York this autumn.
Christie’s has said it expects global confidence in the art market to continue as it announced a 46% rise in sales in the first half of 2010.
The auction house said worldwide sales reached £1.71bn ($2.57bn) for the first six months of the year.
Last year’s figure for the same period was £1.2bn ($1.8bn).
In May, a Pablo Picasso painting set a new record for the most expensive art work sold at auction, fetching £70m ($106m).
The Spanish artist’s 1932 picture Nude, Green Leaves and Bust was sold at Christie’s auction house in New York. It had belonged to the late Los Angeles collectors Frances and Sidney Brody since the 1950s.