Sotheby’s Strategy: One Offer for Two Sales

"Pies," a 1961 painting by Wayne Thiebaud, is part of the second of two auctions of works from the estate of Allan Stone. "Pies," a 1961 painting by Wayne Thiebaud, is part of the second of two auctions of works from the estate of Allan Stone. Sotheby’s

In the auction world memories are short and relationships fickle. From season to season there is no way to predict which auction house will win the prized property, and it often comes down to the most lucrative deal a firm can offer the seller, although occasionally a clever marketing strategy can make the difference.

Four years after Christie’s sale of art and objects belonging to Allan Stone, the obsessive collector and art dealer who died in 2006, one might assume that another Stone sale would go to Christie’s as well.

But it is Sotheby’s that recently won a large group of artworks belonging to the Stone estate. Mr. Stone, who founded the Allan Stone Gallery 50 years ago, was an obsessive collector whose house in Purchase, N.Y., and Manhattan gallery were filled with art and objects. There were Abstract Expressionist paintings by Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, sculptures by John Chamberlain and boxes by Joseph Cornell. (Mr. Stone also collected decorative objects by Antoni Gaudi and at one point he owned 30 Bugatti cars.) But it is a group of fine artworks — paintings, sculptures, drawings — that Sotheby’s will sell next month in two auctions on the same night.

It has divided the property into Volume 1 and Volume 2. Both sales will take place on May 9, the night before Sotheby’s contemporary-art auction.

Volume 1 will include the art Mr. Stone made his reputation buying and selling. For sale will be examples of works by de Kooning, Kline, Cornell and Mr. Chamberlain. Volume 2 will be devoted only to paintings and drawings by Wayne Thiebaud, whose work Mr. Stone championed. Together the two sales are expected to bring $35 million.

“We wanted a good representation of artists in his stable,” said Anthony Grant, international senior specialist of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, who said he believes the Stone heirs chose Sotheby’s over Christie’s not because of financing but because they liked the idea of a separate sale devoted only to Mr. Thiebaud.

Timing is everything in the art business, and with a major retrospective of de Kooning’s work — the first in this country since 1983 — set to open at the Museum of Modern Art in September, the price and demand for his early works are escalating. Paintings dating from 1942 to 1976 are for sale, including “Event in a Barn,” a 1947 view of a figure in an abstracted interior that is estimated at $5 million to $7 million.

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