Last night’s Impressionist and Modern Evening sale at Sotheby’s pulled in $422m with 79% of the lots sold. The overall total showed the strength of the overall art market and the quality of many of the works in the sale. The work-a-day sell-through number suggests a market consolidating constructively and sorting out previous sales.
This is also the first marquee sale assembled since Sotheby’s resolved its board fight with Daniel Loeb. And it is clear that the company views the Impressionist and Modern category its stomping ground. That might explain excessively optimism surround the night’s star lot, Alberto Giacometti’s Chariot, which sold for a robust price even it wasn’t a record setter. Here’s what they were saying in the room.
The master, Judd Tully, spoke to a former Sotheby’s rival:
“One bidder in the world for this?” exclaimed Thomas Seydoux of the international advisory group Connery Pissarro Seydoux. “It just seems crazy. It’s so much better than Walking Man!”
Someone obviously forgot to tell Seydoux that price is rarely a measure of quality. And the lack of bidders raises one issue about timing. The Giacometti market had risen dramatically for a decade but seems to have reached its apogee with the Safra purchase of Walking Man. Chariot may be the better work but it also may have come to market a year or two too late.
Carol Vogel captured some of the conflicting feelings among dealers:
“They’re pushing prices and eliminating 99 percent of their audience,” Robert Landau, the Montreal art dealer, said. […]
“They’re intimidating clients,” Alejandro Carosso, a New York dealer, said. But perhaps Jose Mugrabi, another New York dealer, put things into perspective when asked what he thought of the result of the nearly $101 million Giacometti “Chariot.”
“Everybody was expecting more,” he said. “But it’s still a fantastic price.”
Part of the expectations game may be a shifting buyer base. The Wall Street Journal’s Kelly Crow made this observation:
Bidders from at least 40 countries participated in the sale, particularly Americans and Chinese. A Chinese telephone bidder paid $61.8 million for a burnt orange and mint green Vincent van Gogh “Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies,” along with a $605,000 Henri Matisse and a $1 million Aristide Maillol “Bather (Without Arms).” A Sotheby’s specialist who represents collectors in Hong Kong and China also won a $4.4 million Pablo Picasso, “Head of a Man with a Pipe,” as well as Joan Miro’s $2.2 million “Bird, Insect, Constellation.”
And Bloomberg’s James Tarmy backed that up with this from one of the sale’s key organizers:
“We’ve spent a lot of time between Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai, really bringing that art to the audience,” said David Norman, Sotheby’s co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide. “It’s a significant focus and it’s paying off in terms of percentages in this sale.”
ArtNews’s Dan Duray even suggests that the Modigliani, which would have been expected to appeal to a similar buyer as the Giacometti, was driven by interest from Asia:
After the lot hammered, Rotter leaned down from his phone booth to shake the hand of a colleague, asking him, “How was my Cantonese?” […]
Shifting back to what now qualifies as the middle market, Duray illustrates one reason that we’re seeing a record total on what felt like an average sale. Remember that the $422m total is significantly more than the sale that contained the $120m Munch:
Emmanuel Di Donna pointed out that “five to ten years ago,” Pablo Picasso’s Home assis (1969), clearly wouldn’t have sold for $11.37 million as it did tonight.
“Picasso did well, the Impressionsists did well,” he said. “There’s a good market in the under-$10 million range. Above that the air is a bit more rarefied.”
And collectors seemed to have gotten what they wanted. New Jersey Collector Jim Grecco nabbed Fernand Léger’s Clowns et cheveaux (1953) for $5.87 million. “I thought it was a good piece,” he said after the sale. “I liked the atmosphere, I liked the color, the subject matter, the clowns.”
Speaking of the middle market, Artnet News’s Eileen Kinsella did some research on resale prices and found some surprising drops and an interesting rise:
As usual, works making a return trip to the auction block provided something of a barometer for individual artists or artworks. To that end it was not exactly a great night for work by Wassily Kandinsky. For instance the second lot on offer tonight, Kandinsky’s Diagonale (1930), an oil on cardboard, sold for $1.5 million on an estimate of $1.2–1.8 million. The consignor who acquired it at Christie’s London in February 2007, paid $2 million or £1 million on an estimate of $1.7–2.4 million. But it was bought in when offered in 2012 at Christie’s London with an estimate of $1.9–2.5 million. And five lots later, another Kandinsky painting with a $600–800,000 estimate was opened at $350,000 and never got off the ground. Bidding stalled at around $440,000 and it failed to sell.
A painting by Pablo Picasso Verre et pichet (1944). that was estimated to sell for $2–3 million, sold for $2.85 million. Last offered for sale seven years ago, at Christie’s New York, it sold for $3 million, double the $1.5 million high estimate.
And a brushy Alfred Sisley landscape painting Le Loing à Moret (1883) that sold for $4.9 million on an estimate of $2–3 million, was last seen on the auction block at Christie’s New York in May 2005, where it brought in $1.6 million on an estimate of $800,000–1.2 million.
Finally, bolstering the idea that this sale marked an opportunity to settle accounts, Tully points to the number of bought-in works that finally transacted:
That was the case of (lot 32) Joan Miro’s lively and buzzing “Oiseau, insect, constellation,” from 1974, that sold for $2,285,000 (est. $2-3 million). It bought in Christie’s London in June 2011 against a then unobtainable estimate of £2-3 million. Another phoenix lot offering (lot 54), Edouard Manet’s impressively costumed “Polichinelle,” from 1873, came back to life at $3,525,000 (est. $1-1.5 million), after failing to sell at Christie’s New York back in May 2005 against a $2-3 million estimate.
Sotheby’s Evening Sale — The Chariot of Fire (BLOUIN ARTINFO)
Thanks to Giacometti, Sotheby’s Hits Its Highest Total Ever at Fall Opening (NYTimes.com)
Sotheby’s Auction Led by $101 Million Sale of Giacometti’s ‘Chariot’ (WSJ)
Giacometti’s Chariot Leads Sotheby’s $422 Million Sale (Bloomberg)
Sotheby’s Brings in $422 M., Its Highest Total Ever, at Impressionist and Modern Sale (ARTnews)
Giacometti’s $101 Million Chariot Leads Sotheby’s $400M Imp Mod Evening Sale (artnet News)