Madonna and Paul Cezanne Steal the Show at Sotheby's New York Sales

The pop superstar sold her Fernand Leger painting for $7.2 million while the French artist's still life Les Pommes topped the Sotheby's auction at $41.6 million.
Madonna's Fernand Leger painting
Sotheby's

Picasso once stated that “Cezanne was like the father of us all." Madonna is now challenging Angelina for the role of "Mother of us all."  The unstoppable pop veteran has donated all the proceeds from the $7.2 million auction sale of her Fernand Leger painting Trois Femmes a la Table Rouge at Sotheby’s on May 7 to “support girls' educational projects in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries where female education is rare or nonexistent."

The sales was just one of the big trades that made news at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art auctions on Tuesday and Wednesday. They ended yesterday with another round of high bidding. Two oil paintings by Picasso’s former mistress Francoise Gilot both sold for a record price of $509,000 each -- miles above their original estimates of $40,000 and $35,000, respectively. Rapper LL Cool J was a surprise presence in one of the skyboxes and is thought to have possibly walked away with a Picasso from the Musketeer period of his work, which sold for just under $10 million. The auctions brought in total of just over $288 million and included record-breaking sales for works by Braque, Chagall and Daumier. All of this just a little over a year after Sotheby’s sold a version of Munch’s The Scream for a house record price of $120 million.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Molly Ott, head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sales in New York about this week’s activity. It was clear that there was a celebratory mood at the auction house after the first big sales. “At one point I passed a number of bidders who were on the phone -- bidding on a very simple single line drawing by Picasso of a dove holding an olive branch, a symbol of peace and also a symbol of socialism. The piece, titled simply La Colombe (Dove) ended up selling for $653,000, well above the high estimate of $60,000. I heard phone bidding in nine different languages -- proving this truly is a global market."

Another surprise success emerged from the basement of a public school in Pittsburgh. "Sotheby’s was contacted by the Pittsburgh Public School system about a picture that a secretary had pulled out of storage to hang on the wall of her office," Ott said. "After sending experts there to examine the piece, they confirmed that it was a work by the French Post-Impressionist Henri le Sidaner, who had been invited by the Carnegie Institute to sit on the jury of its International Art Competition. It was included in the Impressionist & Modern Day Sale and ended up bringing in $905,000 at the hammer."

But all eyes were on diva turned philanthropist Madonna this week. She originally acquired the Leger painting for $3.4 million from Sotheby's in 1990. The work, which hung in her New York apartment for years, was acquired by a South American bidder after a two-way bidding war. Commenting on the successful sale on her Facebook page, Madonna wrote above a photograph of a young African girl: "I Hope to make many girls smile like Malala all around the world! Thanks to the amazing sale of my painting at Sotheby's we can make this happen soon! Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen! Art equals Revolution!"

Paul Cezanne was the other big celebrity in the auction house earlier this week. His still life Les Pommes topped the auction with a sale price of $41.6 million -- well above the estimate of $25-35 million. Though impressive, the Cezanne sale is still quite a bit shy of the record for the sale of any individual work of art by the artist. The royal family of Qatar paid over $250 million for Cézanne’s Card Players in 2011.