Sotheby’s Century Actions Achieves $40.7 Million

Sotheby’s recently concluded its spring sale series of 20th and 21st Century Design with an outstanding total of $40.7 million and an overall sell-through rate of 90%. Comprising three auctions across two days in New York and Paris, the series outshone its pre-sale high estimate of $28.7 million, with 408 lots on offer.

These tremendous results bring Sotheby’s worldwide auction sales for the category to a running total of $78.5 million in 2021 – on track to eclipse our 2020 auction total for Design, which was $99.8 million. The May series also followed the record-breaking sales of works from the collection of Washington D.C. philanthropist and businesswoman Michelle Smith last month in New York, which achieved $45 million and set numerous auction benchmarks for coveted models by François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne, and Alberto and Diego Giacometti. Separate release available

Jodi Pollack, Co-Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s 20th Century Design Department remarked: “After an explosive start to our sale season with the collection of Michelle Smith last month, we are thrilled to finish a record-breaking sale series with the culmination of our May Design auctions in New York and Paris – each of which achieved prices well above their high estimates and with exceptional sell-through rates.

Our resounding success was the result of both strong global demand and the presentation of superlative works spanning movements, materials, and forms, as well as a cohesive and creative campaign. Our vision this season was to create a holistic global event, offering the very best works by some of the most celebrated artists and designers of the last century, and we are delighted with the overwhelming response we saw from collectors who participated across the continents.”

Florent Jeanniard, Co-Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s 20th Century Design Department said: “We are thrilled with the results from our May auctions in Paris and New York. This remarkable momentum is a testament to both the unparallel expertise and drive of our worldwide team, as well as the voracious appetite of collectors all over the world, who illustrated feverish demand for works by leading artists such as Les Lalanne, Alberto, and Diego Giacometti, and many more.”

Below is a look at the results that drove our success this week in New York and Paris:

Important Design: from Noguchi to Lalanne
New York & Paris Auctions Total: $39.1 Million
88% Sold by Lot

Our two spring auctions of Important Design began on a Tuesday, with the New York offering totaling an outstanding $21.3 million – well surpassing its $17.3 million high estimates. And on Wednesday 26 May, the Paris session sold 160 lots, which fetched a total of €14.6 million ($17.8 million) against a high estimate of €8.4 million ($10.3 million).

Works by Harry Bertoia achieved top prices, including a 10-minute bidding battle for the artist’s Untitled (Dandelion) steel sculpture, which shattered its $200,000 high estimate to sell for $1.9 million – a new auction record for the artist and many multiples of Bertoia’s previous auction benchmark of $790,000, established at Sotheby’s New York in November 2015. In addition, another sculpture in gold-bearing the same title, on offer from the Neiman Marcus Collection, brought $352,800.

Sotheby's Century Actions Achieves $40.7 Million

In New York, all 25 works by legendary design duo Les Lalanne were sold, totaling an impressive $10.1 million against a combined high estimate of $8 million, with five pieces achieving prices over $1 million. This exemplary group was led by a Crocodile Settee by Claude Lalanne which brought $1.5 million, and two early Moutons de Laine by François-Xavier Lalanne from the collection of fashion designer Kay Unger, which each achieved $1.2 million and $1.1 million. A Pair of Croco-Consoles and a Unique “Structure Végétale aux Papillons” Chandelier, both by Claude Lalanne, sold for $1.1 million and $1 million, respectively.

A newly discovered and important Table by Isamu Noguchi realized $1.1 million, one of only three examples of the form hand-sculpted by the artist that is known to exist.

Spirited participation from collectors bidding online and, on the phone, drove strong results for works by Tiffany Studios, illustrated by a Rare “Fruit” Table Lamp which achieved $564,500. A “Pony Wisteria” Table Lamp and a “River of Life” Window by the firm each realized $239,400 and 226,800.

Sotheby's Century Actions Achieves $40.7 Million

The Paris sale soared beyond estimate, with 72% of lots sold achieving prices in excess of the high estimate, with the majority of top lots making multiples of pre-sale expectations:

The highest prices of the Paris sale were achieved for works by Les Lalanne. The sale featured 31 lots by the two artists, which totaled €6.7 Million ($8.2 Million). Two works by François-Xavier Lalanne exceeded €1 million: the unique Grande Carpe, which was part of the legendary Les Lalanne à Bagatelle exhibition in 1998, sold for €1.2 million (estimate €600/ 800,000); and Singe II from 1999, sold for €1.5 million against an estimate of €300/500,000

Diego and Alberto Giacometti were the other star duo of the sale with works from prestigious provenances. Two of them, designed by Diego Giacometti, exceeded half a million euros: La Table aux Cariatides et Atlantes by Diego Giacometti, 1976, from the former collection of the great decorator Henri Samuel, attracted much interest with its provenance, selling for €678,000 (estimate: €300/400,000).

The second-highest price for Diego Giacometti in the Paris Design sale went to a Berceau Low Table from 1963, which fetched over half a million euros (€557,000 against an estimate of €80/ 120,000).

Alongside Diego Giacometti, the sale also featured several works by his brother Alberto, including the Lampadaire Tête de Femme, circa 1933-1934, which sold for €327,100, exceeding its high estimate of €200,000.

Auction Total: $1.6 Million
100% Sold

Offering works from a private Montana collection, this special sale dedicated to Thomas Molesworth’s unique Western aesthetic saw a marked depth of bidding for myriad furniture forms, as well as examples of lighting, metalwork, and accessory items rarely seen at auction. This “white-glove” sale achieved $1.6 million, vastly outperforming its pre-sale estimate of $1.1 million.

The superlative group was led by two Sofas, which each well surpassed their high estimates to sell for $176,400 and $151,200


Sotheby's Century Actions Achieves $40.7 Million

A rare “Buffalo Hunt” Blanket Chest soared above its $30,000 high estimate to bring $126,000, and a Console Table achieved $113,400 to round out this exceptional sale.

Images: Sotheby’s


Sotheby’s has been uniting collectors with world-class works of art since 1744. Sotheby’s became the first international auction house when it expanded from London to New York (1955), the first to conduct sales in Hong Kong (1973), India (1992) and France (2001), and the first international fine art auction house in China (2012). Today, Sotheby’s has a global network of 80 offices in 40 countries and presents auctions in 10 different salesrooms, including New York, London, Hong Kong and Paris. Sotheby’s offers collectors the resources of Sotheby’s Financial Services, the world’s only full-service art financing company, as well as the collection, artist, estate & foundation advisory services of its subsidiary, Art Agency, Partners. Sotheby’s also presents private sale opportunities in more than 70 categories, including S|2, the gallery arm of Sotheby's Global Fine Art Division, and three retail businesses: Sotheby’s Wine, Sotheby’s Diamonds, and Sotheby’s Home, the online marketplace for interior design.