Between them, the Impressionist and Modern arts sales in the first week of February are offering 514 lots estimated at £126million, about half of the 950 lots available for £224million in the equivalent sales last year. There is a similar pattern in the Contemporary sales the week after.
The FT goes a bit further bringing up a little unpleasant housekeeping from last year’s sales.
While both houses strenuously deny there is any distress-selling, Christie’s has a group of five paintings which were bought in February last year by a “private European” and never paid for. One was the cover lot of the sale, Jawlensky’s portrait of a cross-looking girl, “Mädchen mit roter Schliefe” (1911). Then, it made just over £2.9m; now, it is estimated at £1.8m-£2.5m. At Sotheby’s a Klimt, “Portrait of a Lady” (1917), is also a recent returnee, having sold in February for £228,500; now it is estimated at £120,000-£180,000.
Make no mistake, the auction houses know what’s on the line here. And both teams have been making strong commitments to demonstrate that there are buyers as well as sellers at this new price level:
Pilar Ordovás, deputy chairman for Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, said: “These are the first sales to reflect the new reality. Our main concern was not to have the biggest sale – it was to have a sale where everything sells. That’s important to keep confidence going.”
High Returns for Art are Swept Away (Times of London)
A Tent, a Rollercoaster and a Merry-Go-Round (Financial Times)