"A Christie's art expert describes Vincent van Gogh's "Enclosed Field with Ploughman," which is one pieces of artwork from the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass collection that will be sold later this month. McClatchy Courtesy of Christie's
"A Christie's art expert describes Vincent van Gogh's "Enclosed Field with Ploughman," which is one pieces of artwork from the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass collection that will be sold later this month. McClatchy Courtesy of Christie's

Fort Worth

Bass family Van Gogh nearly sets record at auction

November 28, 2017 12:22 PM

Portions of the Bass family art collection, including stunning, museum-quality pieces by Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Matisse, were sold at a New York auction earlier this month for $165 million.

Van Gogh’s 1889 “Enclosed Field with Ploughman” sold for $81.3 million, much more than the $50 million anticipated price tag, the Christie’s auction house said. The sale price narrowly missed the $82.5 million record for a piece of the master’s work from 1990.

A 1969 untitled painting by Mark Rothko on paper did set a record by selling for $11 million — previously, the highest amount paid for this type of artwork was $7.9 million, said Max Carter, head of Christie’s department of Impressionists and Modern Art in New York.

“It (the Bass collection) did extremely well, it exceeded our expectations, which is always nice,” Carter said. “It is a testament to the Basses and their collecting. ... They were very eclectic in their tastes, but when they bought, they bought the best of what they liked.”

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On Monday a representative said the Bass family would have no comment on the sale of the 22 pieces of art.

The art collection was compiled by the late Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass, mother and father to the billionaire Bass brothers — Sid, Ed, Robert and Lee. Their collection took several decades to gather. At one time many of the paintings were displayed in a great room of the Bass’s Fort Worth home.

Some of the artwork was on loan to the Kimbell Art Museum for more than two years — including several that were displayed as “guests of honor” with the museum’s collection — but were removed in August and September. They were all displayed in 2015 as part of an exhibit in the museum’s new Renzo Piano Pavilion.

Besides the Van Gogh, a 1933 work by Joan Miró, “Peinture,” brought in $23.4 million, and a work by Matisse, “Les régates de Nice,” from 1921 sold for $16.6 million, the auction house said.

Originally, Christie’s said 36 pieces of art were being offered as part of its 20th Century week sale but only 29 were offered from Nov. 13-16. Another 12 pieces of art will be offered for sale over the next year, some of them at an upcoming auction in Paris, a Christie’s spokeswoman said.

All of the stars aligned to make the Bass art sale successful, Carter said. He said the quality of the paintings was a large factor, along with the fact that, except for a limited viewing at the Kimbell, the paintings were usually only on display at the Bass home.

But there also was the “karma” surrounding the Bass family collection, Carter said. “It is rare that you are offered a collection (that receives) such a warm response,” he said.

Kimbell Art Museum Director Eric Lee, who had previously praised the collection as “absolutely fantastic,” said the good economy has made the market very strong for works that are extremely rare and of such a high quality. The same week someone paid $450.3 million for a painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Kimbell didn’t bid on any of the works.

“A strong economy leads to a strong art market,” Lee said, especially when you have buyers from China, Russia and the Middle East “that have a lot of money they can spend on art at the moment.”

The hot art market in certain categories can make it difficult for museums like the Kimbell to buy art, but Lee said great acquisitions can be made in areas that may not be as popular at the time. For example, old masters are a relative bargain now compared to contemporary art, except for some like Leonardo da Vinci.

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“We buy for the long run and we buy works for the next 100 years ... We’re not as susceptible to fashion as other collectors might be,” he said.

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB