Yesterday's auction at the Hôtel des Ventes
in Geneva was not only memorable but also historic, as the Serge Lifar collection was sold for CHF 7,250,000, 7 times the estimate and a record for the Genevan auction house. The works of the greatest artists of the XXth century were on display in this remarkable ensemble. They were all works of outstanding provenance, many with the stamp of the Serge Lifar collection or dedications by the artists.
The sale of 46 lots of work by Jean Cocteau was the standout event, selling for a total of CHF 2,716,000 (EUR 2,241,000; USD 2,925,000). The authenticity of these works was confirmed shortly before the auction by the Cocteau Committee. The exceptional ensemble of 48 drawings for Opium was sold to the collection of Jean-Claude Vrain, bookseller in Paris for more than a million Swiss francs (lots 489 to 492A). A similar success was achieved for the completely unpublished notebook of 45 sketches in which Cocteau portrayed his secretary and friend Marcel Khill. This went to a buyer wishing to remain anonymous for CHF 426,000 (EUR 351000, USD 459,000) (lot 488, est. CHF 20,000-30,000).
Autographed manuscripts of major works by Cocteau also attracted the intense interest of those in the auction room and those bidding by telephone: Orphée (lot 486), La Machine Infernale and LAnge Heurtebise were sold for CHF 462,000 (EUR 381,000; USD 497,600), CHF 182,000 and CHF 115,000 respectively. These three manuscripts went to the prestigious collection of the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits de Paris, together with a drawing entitled La danseuse (lot 449, sold for CHF 7'900) and a portrait de Radiguet by Jean Cocteau (lot 464 sold for CHF 10,000). These works will be displayed at the Cocteau exhibition that the Paris museum will organise in October 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of the artists death. Also on display at the same exhibition will be an extremely rare autographed manuscript of several poems from the collection entitled Des Joues en Feu by Raymond Radiguet, which were all so bought by the Paris museum for CHF 194,500 (EUR 160,500; USD 209,500). Bernard Piguet director and auctioneer of the Hôtel des Ventes of Geneva commented on the results as follows: « Some observers of the art market believe that Jean Cocteaus popularity is waning. This auction in Geneva proves that the opposite is true. »
Frenzied bidding at the Hôtel des Ventes Geneva yesterday for all the lots connected with the famous « Mademoiselle Chanel » One lot with an autographed letter from Coco to Serge Lifar testifying to their long friendship, accompanied by two photographs of Chanel dedicated « to her dear brother Serge », were sold for 1,400 times the low estimate price: CHF 430,000 (lot 435, est. CHF 300-500). Lots 468 and 469 consisting of two manuscript letters from Cocteau to Coco were sold for an amazing CHF 48,600 and CHF 67,000, while her small brass ashtray realised CHF 8,500 (lot 414) and a lot of 18 photographs of Serge Lifar together with Coco Chanel changed hands for CHF 34,000.
Marked enthusiasm of Russian bidders for Pushkin : a lot of 401 books, posters, programmes and medals was sold for CHF 158,000. A bidder present in the auction room acquired all 7 lots of the work of Aleksei Michailovich Remizov (1877-1957) for CHF 815,000 (EUR 672,000; USD 878,000), establishing a series of world records in all categories for the work of this artist.
The 75 lots of photographs retracing the career, the friendships and encounters of the star dancer, all preserved by Lifar until the end of his life as a precious treasure, were sold for a total of CHF 380,000 (EUR 313,500; USD 409,000). The 6 photographs by Man Ray aroused great interest among connoisseurs, with bidding reaching CHF 39,000, while lots 302 and 303 comprising photographs of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes were sold for CHF 42,000 and CHF 51,000 respectively. A photograph of Pablo Picasso taken in 1910, signed by the master in blue pencil and dedicated to Serge Lifar, changed hands for CHF 12,000.
The small cubist composition by Picasso entitled Homme à la guitare (Man with Guitar) (14x11,5 cm) was yesterday sold to a telephone bidder for CHF 206,000 (lot 613, est. CHF 70,000-90,000). Another Picasso, a study for a stage set entitled « Prélude à laprès-midi dun faune » went for CHF 158,000 (618, est. CHF 80,000-120,000).
The Serge Lifar collection was rounded off with a number of other stage sets for ballets. The draft stage set for Diaghilev Ballet « Roméo et Juliette » of 1926 by Max Ernst, entitled « Soleil » was sold for CHF 231,000 (lot 561, est. 100,000-150,000) while 6 stage sets by Goncharova realised CHF 162,000 (lots 568 to 572).
There was also very lively bidding for musical scores. Four manuscript pages autographed by Igor Strawinsky (lot 382) and two scores autographed by Francis Poulenc, La Colombe et Les Biches (lot 380) were sold for CHF 67,000 and CHF 31,000 respectively. There was also highly competitive bidding for the score of Chota Roustaveli by Honegger. Never before published, this score was finally sold for CHF 36,000.
Finally, we should also mention the sale of 12 busts of Roman emperors from the end of the XVIII century for CHF 292,000. They are said to have been part of the library of the famous philosopher Voltaire.