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Switzerland looks forward to auction bonanza

Augusto Giacometti’s “Mary with baby Jesus” fetched SFr1.58 million at auction last spring

(Keystone)

Auctioneers in Switzerland are rubbing their hands ahead of Tuesday's auction of exclusively Swiss works of art at Christie's in Zurich. Experts are expecting a record bid for a painting by the Swiss artist, Félix Valloton.

One of Christie's authorities on Swiss art, Markus Schöb, said the painting "Sur la plage" (1899) by Félix Valloton was expected to fetch the highest price yet of any Valloton work.

The hype surrounding Valloton's painting comes as no surprise to art lovers. Recently Swiss works from the turn of the 19th century have been fetching astronomical prices.

Earlier this year, Sotheby's sold a painting of a sunset by Valloton for SFr2.36 million ($1.36 million), after the bidding had opened at half a million francs. Augusto Giacometti's "Mary with baby Jesus", sold by Christie's, went for SFr1.58 million - almost twice as much as art experts had been predicting.

It was a similar story with the painting, "Monk", by Swiss artist, Ferdinand Hodler, which was sold for a staggering SFr2.3 million - double the estimated price.

The huge prices commanded by Swiss art are a relatively recent phenomenon. In 1992, the Kunsthaus art museum in Zurich paid just SFr100,000 for a Vallotton not unlike the one recently sold by Sotheby's.

Five years later, Hodler's "Mirror image of Lake Thun" made the headlines when it was sold for SFr3.4 million. And at an auction last year, "Lake Silvaplana" by Hodler sold for SFr4.2 million. In the space of three minutes the painting had attracted bids of SFr3.7 million.

Art expert, Simon de Pury, is convinced that, unless the Swiss economy takes a downturn, prices will continue to boom. "This is only the beginning. Hodler and Valloton are still undervalued."

De Pury says that Hodler's paintings have long been undervalued because "95 per cent of his paintings are in Swiss museums and private collections, which is why his works not been present in the international market".

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