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There is no denying that we're in the midst of Bernard Buffet market boomlet. It might actually be something bigger than that considering the interest in the artist from Asian buyers and the re-assessment of his life in Nicholas Foulkes new biography and a big retrospective of his work last year in Paris at the Grand Palais.
Last June, in London, Christie's somewhat unexpectedly featured one of his late paintings of clowns and scored a record price of £1m (~$1.5m, then) for the work. In February, the firm Matsart made almost $1m on their landscape of Paris with the Eiffel Tower; two years earlier, a clown painting made more than $750k at Christie's Shanghai sale. All three of these prices were near or eclipsed the records previously set for the painter more than a quarter of a century earlier when the artist last saw a boomlet.
In the New York sales in November, there were 13 works on offer in a wide range of prices and styles. Just before the sales, Christie's had sold a small clown painting in Shanghai for $280k, a solid sale. There was only one small clown painting in New York but its quality and sale price within the estimate range did not provide much to measure the appetite for that body of work. Of the 13 works, a solid 10 sold for a solid 77% sell-through rate. Much more relevant was the fact that all but one of the 10 sold above the low estimate. Four of the 10 works exceeded the estimate range and made prices that were sometimes two or three times the low estimate. Clearly there are bidders for Buffet's work.
This February, Christie's continues to lead the way in the Buffet market. They had 11 of the 13 works in November. In a few weeks they will have four more works on offer with estimates in and around six-figures in sterling. Sotheby's has two works at much lower price points and Christie's South Kensington salesroom has a bouquet of flowers in the low to mid-five-figure range. The work offered during the London sales cycle with the highest estimate, a painting of Versailles offered at £150-250k, is a reminder to the market that two of his top 5 prices at auction were achieved for works depicting Parisian landmarks.
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