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Marion Maneker0November 03, 2009

New York Sale Preview: Imp/Mod

[intro]The Auction Houses Say There Are Plenty of Buyers. Let’s See ‘Em.[/intro]

In the last few days, a remarkably consistent theme has come out of both auction houses. Perhaps emboldened by the interest shown by clients in the weeks leading up to the sale, auction house representatives have been making bullish noises about the art market. In his press introduction to Sotheby’s Evening sale of Impressionist and Modern works, Simon Shaw reminded reporters that a Monet in the house’s Spring sale had attracted 20 bidders.

Reuters followed up with this quote from Marc Porter, president of Christie’s Americas: “We really have more buyers than ever — as many, if not more than a year ago.”

If that’s true, the consignors of great works who had the nerve or need to sell this season may be rewarded. The market, we are told, is strong for striking pieces with good provenance. Of course, everything has to be fresh to the market. The game this fall is not beating last year’s sales volume but bettering the Spring’s results. More important than beating $164m combined total for both houses’ evening sales will be bettering the $2.449m average price across all evening lots.

In the Spring, the sales were dominated by late Picasso musketeers, Mondrian, Giacometti and a large number of Tamara de Lempicka portraits. There are de Lempicka’s again this season at Christie’s but not of the caliber of the Spring cavalcade. Picasso, Mondrian and Giacometti are well represented. Sotheby’s has another Buste d’homme that will show just how much demand remains after the Gagosian show and the multi-year run-up in prices for these formerly shunned works.

Christie’s has a striking Picasso Tete de femme from the war years that is estimated below the Sotheby’s Buste d’homme. Here is Christie’s Conor Jordan discussing the painting at the press preview:

The Giacometti role is being played by S.I. Newhouse’s pre-shopped Homme qui chavire. The $8-$12m estimate will test the autioneers theory that buyers who were previously offere the work at $20m and $16m might be persuaded to buy at the level if only they can be assured that someone else is willing to pay that price.

Simon Shaw explains here why this particular Homme qui chavire is worth fighting for:

[private_subscriber][private_bundle]Christie’s has built its sale around a few stand-out works. There’s the maquette Matisse made for a stained glass window commissioned by the Rockefeller family. A Mondrian said to be owned by the Nahmad family who may have proved their market timing skills once again. A couple of Pissarro landscapes, as well as a Monet view of Vétheuil, a Fantin-Latour still life and a Degas danseuse fill out the sale highlights. Several of these are stacked up at the beginning of the sale where the house hopes to build momentum. Here Jordan talks about the Rodin Le Baiser being offered with a high estimate of $2m:

In the same range as the Rodin, Christie’s is also selling a Kandinsky–subtler than the one at Sotheby’s–Signac and van Dongen. There are also significant Surrealist works estimated in the $2-3m range from Magritte, Dali and Ernst. If you ask the specialists about the growing importance of Surrealism in these sales, they’ll shrug and tell you they haven’t noticed. And yet, with each cycle, we get more works at higher estimates from genre that doesn’t have a strong collecting base in North America.

At Sotheby’s there is a clutch of Surrealist works to0, including the Dali that opens the sale. But the larger sale uptown has lots that are first in line before that. The van Dongen Jeune Arabe and the Kandinsky Krass und Mild round out the top tier works. Here’s Emmanuel Di Donna on the van Dongen:

Beneath that estimate level, there are a great number of works at Sotheby’s valued in the million-dollar range. The seven works from the Durand-Ruel family, including two Pissarro landscapes, two Sisleys and three Renoirs, the most important of which is the Femme au chapeau blanc. The Degas horses and Munch female figures have not gotten much pre-sale attention even though the Degas carries a very respectable $4-6m estimate. There is a lovely Nolde and Monet which both depict flowers are estimated with serious intent.

Sotheby’s counter point to Christie’s Picasso Tete de femme is Femme au chapeau vert painted four years later . There is a Joaquin Sorolla painting that was owned a student of his and descended through her family to this week’s sale. Two significant works by Joan Miró appear in the sale, one estimated in the $3-4m range and the other a few clicks lower.

They are matched by the Magritte and de Chirico, at least in price, but bested by a Modigliani portrait. La Fantesca, that wants $3.5-5m. Finally, we can’t leave the subject without mentioning the striking van Dongen nude or Derain harbor scene..

In all, the weak dollar should add to some of the attraction of these works. If buyers feel the prices represent a real opportunity to get works that won’t come to market again–at least, not at this price–we could see the beginning of a base forming in the Impressionist and Modern market. The prevalence of works on paper in these evening sales, while possibly indicative of just how hard it has been to source important works by big name artists, may also signal that the best works are getting harder and harder to find. [/private_subscriber][/private_bundle]