© THE NEW YORK TIMES, November 16, 1990 by RITA REIF:
Garbo's Glamour Enlivens Auction
The Garbo magic has achieved what no artist was able to do for this month's auction sales: it restored glamour, excited bidding and high prices to a lackluster market.
Greta Garbo's fans, 1,500 strong, surged into Sotheby's yesterday afternoon to watch and bid at the auction of her artworks and antiques. Most of those who came to buy went away disppointed as prices soared to 20 times Sotheby's presale estimates. All of Miss Garbo's possessions from her Manhattan apartment -- paintings of dogs, fruits and flowers; pink porcelain ashtrays, Louis XV chairs and gilded candlesticks -- were sold.
The sale turned the clock back for many of the actress's friends and admirers. "She was the loveliest woman I ever saw or will see," said a French friend, Baroness Liliane de Rothschild. "She had real taste, natural taste."
Sherry Ostrow, a private antique-clothes dealer, was among the unsuccessful bidders. "I came all the way from West Orange, N.J., to buy something -- a cup, a dish, anything that Greta Garbo owned," she said. "The way the prices are going, I'll never be able to buy anything but this catalogue." The catalogue cost $50. Like the Old Days
For Sotheby's, too, it was nostalgia time. Fierce bidding was reminiscent of the giddy auction scene of the 1980's, in sharp contrast to events of the last two weeks. In the November sales, 30 to 50 percent of the works offered did not sell, and totals were as much as 20 to 50 percent below the auction houses' low estimates.
The Garbo auction was markedly different. The sale, expected to bring $678,150 to $964,050, reached a total of $2.5 million -- two and a half times expectations -- for the 191 artworks and antique objects offered. The highest price paid was for Albert Andre's painting of an old woman in white, which was bought for $187,000 -- against an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000 -- by an unidentified American collector.
At the major art sales earlier this week, bidders were more sober.
"The average of what has sold has been at the low end of the house estimates," said Richard Gray, a Chicago dealer. "One thing is certain: the market has not collapsed. The best works sold, and for top prices. The average works were discounted 20 0r 30 percent, and the mediocre works did not sell but probably will again when the market adjusts." For van Gogh, the Extremes
The ups and downs were seen clearly on Wednesday night at Christie's sale of Impressionist and modern works at which a painting by Vincent van Gogh went unsold and a drawing by the artist set a record.
Van Gogh's boldly drawn "Garden of Flowers," from 1888, in brown and black ink over pencil, brought $8.4 million, a record at auction for any drawing. It was bought by William Acquavella, a Manhattan dealer. But van Gogh's painting "Vase With Cornflowers and Poppies," from 1890, was bid to only about $9 million -- well below the price the owner would accept. The house estimate was $12 million to $16 million.
The highest price paid Wednesday night was $9.9 million, for Fernand Leger's abstract landscape "Houses Beneath the Trees," from 1913, which was bought by Peter and John Herring, Manhattan dealers.
When the sales of Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby's and Christie's ended yesterday, the totals were substantially below both housess' expectations. At Sotheby's, 582 artworks were offered and 478 were sold through Wednesday for a total of $168 million, against an estimate of $200.5 million to $269.5 million. Christie's series of Impressionist and modern art sales ended yesterday afternoon with a total of $120.1 million for the 188 works sold of the 240 works offered in a sale that was estimated to bring $160.5 million to $199.3 million. The totals for the first two sessions of Sotheby's print sales yesterday were within the house estimates. More Conservative on Guarantees
Most dealers who commented on the auction houses' guaranteed property in these sales -- 81 artworks in Sotheby's sales and 3 in Christie's -- criticized the auction houses' expectations, saying they were higher than the market could sustain. Diana D. Brooks, Sotheby's president, said yesterday: "Yes, we have had some serious problems with guarantees this fall. Over the last year, however, our performance has been very strong on guarantees. They have still been profitable. In this market we will take a more conservative position on guarantees; we will be less likely to give them." 2 Records Abroad
Auctions in London and Geneva this week brought two records.
John Constable's "Lock," from 1824, was sold on Wednesday for $21.1 million at Sotheby's in London to Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, a member of the advisory board of Sotheby's Holdings. The Baron bid by telephone for his foundation in Lugano, Switzerland, through Simon de Pury, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Europe, who was in the room. Mr. de Pury was formerly the curator of the Baron's collection. The price paid for the Constable was a record at auction for any British artwork and five times the highest price previously paid at auction for a painting by the artist.
On Wednesday night, Sotheby's in Geneva sold, for a record $12.8 million, a recently cut pear-shaped diamond of 101.84 carats that the auction house described as colorless and flawless. The price was the highest paid at auction for any jewel. The buyer was Robert Mouawad, a Geneva jeweler.
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