Judd Tully captured the mood in the auction room as Monet’s Nymphéas failed to elicit a single bid:
After a momentary dead silence, the room buzzed with shock and a few hisses of despair, as if this side of the art market suffered a high-speed puncture on the Autobahn.
Tully adds that price might not have been the only deterrent:
Trade gossip indicated that the picture, though rare and fabulous, was rather flat color-wise with a quiet and subdued impact, at least for the trophy hunting cognescenti.
Which could lead one to infer that the Gagosian show in New York might have been to the painting’s disadvantage leaving any potential buyer with a quick and vivid comparison between the muted work on offer and some of the vibrant examples on display cheek-by-jowl in New York’s Chelsea.
Carol Vogel records some industry response to the Monet’s failure thusly:
“A sense of reality has entered the market,” said Thomas Gibson, a London dealer. “You cannot bully people into paying huge sums just by putting huge estimates on a picture.”
Dino Zevi, a dealer based in St. Moritz, Switzerland, seemed surprised by the Monet’s failure to sell: “With all the publicity it had, there is no reason why it did not.”
Still, Mr. Zevi added, although the market is clearly “stronger than it used to be, collectors are picky and there is a price resistance.”
And Tully found that many just don’t believe publicity is what sells pictures:
“It’s not just a publicity campaign,” said James Roundell of London’s Dickinson and a former top Impressionist and Modern director at Christie’s. “There’s a lot of presentation, but, at the end, it’s the picture that counts and perhaps that’s what tonight told us.” Echoing in part that let’s-be-real sentiment, London dealer Guy Jennings optimistically noted, “There is some judgment in the market!”
Something that Bloomberg‘s Scott Reyburn got Thomas Seydoux of Christie’s to own up to:
“I had four people on phones waiting for the Monet and no one pulled the trigger,” Thomas Seydoux, Christie’s international head of Impressionist and modern art said in an interview after the sale. “We were a bit too bullish. Once an estimate gets to 30 million pounds, it does create caution.”
Picasso Sells but Monet Sinks in a Mixed Christie’s Sale, Throwing Market Recovery into Question (ArtInfo.com)
Even for Picasso, Bidding Stays Cautious in London Auctions (NY Times)
Picasso Portrait Fetches $52 Million; Monet Flops (Bloomberg)