Christie’s sale tonight proved that the reports of the art market’s collapse are entirely premature. In fact, in an eerie reverse of May 2004 where Sotheby’s sold $96 million worth of Imp/Mod art and Christie’s sold $56 million, this season’s totals were $61 million for Sotheby’s and $102 million for Christie’s during the Evening sales.
At Christie’s tonight sale Christie’s sold 38 lots and made $102.7 million with 79% of the lots sold. The average lot value was $2.7 million vs. $2.116 million at Sotheby’s the previous evening.
Throughout the evening, at Christie’s there was subtle tone of serious business as the auction house moved the merchandise. Bidding was persistent but restrained. Sales were made at whatever level the market would bear, sometimes above the estimates and other times near or below the lows.
Christie’s sold there two top lots, both Picassos and showed that there is an art market below $15 million.
Kelly Crow called the $102 million result, “a heartening result that shows some collectors still want to compete for art bargains.”
Christie’s sale also relied on the tried-and-true appeal of the female nude. At least eight works in the sale depicted beautiful women in the buff, including Edgar Degas’s “Après le bain, femme s’essuyant,” which sold for $5.9 million and Henri Matisse’s “Nu a la serviette blanche,” which sold for $3.2 million. The works had been priced to sell for at least $4 million and $2 million, respectively.
The sale proved a relief to collectors like Bruce Toll, who has spent the past three decades buying artists such as Gustave Caillebotte. The late 19th century artist — Mr. Toll’s favorite — is known for painting dishes of food that appear as mouth-watering as any created a century later by Wayne Thiebaud. Mr. Toll was the underbidder on Christie’s 1881 Caillebotte, “Hors d’oeuvres,” which sold to a telephone bidder for $530,500, exceeding its high estimate. “Prices had gotten out of hand recently,” Mr. Toll said, “but now they are, well, in hand. It’s time to buy.”
Meanwhile, Carol Vogel is mystified how the art market could have reversed itself overnight:
A day can make all the difference in the life of auctions. Buyers appeared afraid to shop on Tuesday night, unsure of whether there was a market. But by Wednesday evening, fears of conspicuous consumption had apparently evaporated, with multiple bidders for most of the works. And Christie’s experts had the benefit of adjusting their pricing in the wake of Sotheby’s results.
“I was surprised to see people spending money,” said Mark Fisch, a Manhattan real estate developer and collector who was sitting in the second row at Christie’s. In this economy, he added, he thought bidding would have been more tentative.
Lindsay Pollock and Philip Boroff at Bloomberg grabbed a few dealers on their way in and out of the sale:
- “There’s pent-up demand to buy,” said New York dealer David Nash. “The estimates were reasonable, but some of the prices were really hard to follow.” He said prices were high for the rare and the “really ugly.”
- “The market was really strong,” said Vedovi. “In this recession period, it was a little surprising that people are ready to pay for good paintings.”
- Another late Picasso, “Femme au chapeau,” sold for $7.8 million to the Nahmad art-dealing family, shy of the $8 million to $12 million estimate. “Taste-wise, it’s groundbreaking,” said Helly Nahmad, who runs a London gallery.
- “People have their confidence back,” said Christophe Van de Weghe, a New York dealer. “We saw people have money and are ready to spend, but they wanted to pay the right price. Next week is going to do very well.”
Finally, The Master, Judd Tully, we have these observations:
- Unlike its rival, Christie’s managed to sell all of its most expensive lots, though one of them, a Max Ernst oil from 1928, Malédiction à vous les mamans, was withdrawn by the seller before the sale, in a clear case of stage fright over its unrealistically high $7–9 million estimate.
- Picasso ruled the roost with late-period pictures, including the feisty, color-charged cover lot, Mousquetaire à la pipe (1968), which sold to Brussels dealer Mimo Vedovi for $14,642,500 (est. $12–18 million), becoming the evening’s top lot. Vedovi outgunned at least three other bidders, including New York trader Jose Mugrabi. “I bought the painting for a European client who has a big collection,” said Vedovi after the surprisingly buoyant sale, “but not a Mousquetaire-period Picasso. We were willing to go higher.”
- “This is my 40th year going to auctions,” said New York dealer Paul Herring, moments after the hard-charging sale, “and I still can’t figure it out.”
Picassos Sell at Christie’s Auction, After Faltering at Sotheby’s (New York Times)
Christie’s Beats Sotheby’s with $102.7 Million Sale (Wall Street Journal)
Madoff Victim Sells Picasso for $14.6 Million at Christie’s (Bloomberg)