Last night’s sale at Sotheby’s offered further proof that sellers are choking off the Impressionist and Modern market by either showing no interest in selling or only offering works for sale at estimates that remain unrealistic. Starved for material, Sotheby’s sale offered little for Asian trophy hunters (if they haven’t already headed for the hills) and not much to excite committed collectors. When the works were there, however, the bidding indicated a healthy market.
But with most lots failing to meet the low estimates, this statement from Sotheby’s comes across as hollow mis-messaging that Artinfo’s Judd Tully captured:
“Overall, I was actually really pleased with the results,” said Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Europe, “because we had five lots that sold above 10 million and I think it demonstrated a kind of well-functioning, solid market with confidence to bid at these levels, and showing a continuing appetite.”
As Newman accurately observed, “there was a lot of anticipation about how these sales would perform and altogether, it was reassuring and solid.”
A few commentators, including Tully, have remarked that the absence of direct and third part guarantees gives us a better picture of the “real” art market. That’s hard to support when so much of the buying at Sotheby’s sale was from the same market insiders who would be providing the guarantees and irrevocable bids.
Colin Gleadell caught David Nahmad after he snapped up the Matisse that failed to reach its low estimate:
The stalemate in the room was only broken by the opportunistic David Nahmad who bought it for £10.8 million. After the sale he posed by it proudly for selfies taken by a younger Nahmad. #MyLatestBargain?
Since Nahmad was also the seller of the Monet Venetian scene that sold the same evening, the sales amounted to swap against the family’s account at Sotheby’s.
By its very definition, a trade sales is a lower price sale than one where “retail” buyers are participating. But at least one trade participant thought the sale’s reliance on works that were coming back to market from distressed sales like the lead lot, a Picasso picture that had made nearly $40m two and a half years ago. He spoke to Tully:
“The reality,” opined dealer Christophe van de Weghe, who attended both the 2013 sale and the one tonight, “is that this painting is worth $24 million” — Wednesday’s hammer price before premium — “and it’s a lot money. Before, it was a case of two people bidding at auction against each other and the price was completely cuckoo. ”Overall, as van de Weghe pointed out, “if you look at what happened in January on Wall Street, this sale is extremely positive.”
Tully also pointed to the active dealer buying:
a modestly sized Paul Gauguin still life, “Nature morte aux mangos et a la fleur d’hibiscus” from 1887, sensuously painted around the time Gauguin was in Martinique, sold to London dealer and collector Danny Katz for £2,389,000/$3,439,682 (est. £2-3 million).
Other reporters, like The Art Newspaper’s Ermano Rivetti caught these observations from some who seemed more concerned with talking their books:
“This is an evolution in the market and certainly not a bloodshed: it’s the correction we’ve all been anticipating,” said Nazy Vassegh, the chief executive of London’s Masterpiece art fair.
“You could say there was no fizz in the champagne, but for the first sale of the season it went fine. It was a good, old fashioned London trade sale—it shows the true market,” said the adviser Thomas Seydoux, who bought the fiery red Chagall, Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel (1928), for £6.2m (£7m with premium).
Katya Kazakina has been focused on the aftermath of MoMA’s landmark Picasso sculpture sale. She added this observation that the sale has had few commercial coattails beyond the now infamous sculpture being battled over by the world’s most prominent collectors:
A casualty was Picasso’s 16-inch-tall bronze, “Le Fou,” conceived in 1905 and cast before 1939, according to Sotheby’s catalog. The work, depicting a young man in a pointed jester hat, was estimated at 1.5 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds. Another version of the work is on view at the “Picasso Sculpture” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
The trade didn’t only pick up bargains last night. At least one seasoned operator showed he still had an eye for a bargain, according to Colin Gleadell’s report:
A Picasso drawing of Walter spotted by dealer Richard Feigen in a sale in Rio was bought last summer for $531,000. Feigen sold it on, and it appeared at Sotheby’s with a £1.2 million ($1.8 million) estimate, an indication as to what the buyer paid, and the amount for which it duly sold.
Sotheby’s Mixed-Message Evening in London (BLOUIN ARTINFO)
Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Sale 2016 (artnet News)
Market sobers up at London’s Impressionist and Modern sale (The Art Newspaper)
Picasso’s Young Lover Canvas Fetches $27.6 Million at Sotheby’s (Bloomberg Business)