Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Evening Sale in London last night—expected to be the big show of the week—demonstrated that although the Imp/Mod market is quite a bit stronger than recognized prices have been pushed to their limit. Here’s Bloomberg’s James Tarmy:
“There were no fireworks,” said Harry Smith, managing director at Gurr Johns, an art advisory. “But there was no picture here that was massively underpriced such that it would cause fireworks.”
The bar has been set high for sales in the category, which is strong but nowhere near its 1989 high. Sotheby’s is coming off a record Impressionist and modern art sale that totaled $422.1 million in November in New York. According to New York researcher Artnet, global auctions of Impressionist art set a record in 2014 at $2.4 billion. By comparison, the group had sales of $1.8 billion in 1989, or about $3.5 billion today when adjusted for inflation.
“Sotheby’s sale was quite strong,” said Elizabeth von Habsburg, managing director of Winston Art Advisory in New York. “We’ve been spoiled into thinking things should sell above their high estimate, but for the most part the works were accurately priced.”
Judd Tully recapped the Monet action that was meant to show the Imp/Mod market was capable of achieving Contemporary style prices:
The Monet cavalcade rolled on with the guaranteed cover lot, which recently resided on loan at London’s National Gallery, “Le Grand Canal” from 1908. It sold to another telephone bidder for the top lot price of £23,669,000/$35,567,406 (est. £20-30 million). It had last sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2005 for $12,896,000.
Monet’s lushly brushed “Les Peupliers a Giverny,” from 1887, deaccessioned by the Museum of Modern Art to benefit its acquisitions funds and also guaranteed with what Sotheby’s describes as an “irrevocable bid” from an outside third party, didn’t fly so high, selling for £10,789,000/$16,212,630 (est. £9-12 million). Sotheby’s identified the underbidder as the illusionist David Copperfield.
The Monet parade ended with “L’Embarcadre” from 1871, the early riverside scene observed, accoding to some art historians, at Zaandam in Holland rather than by the Seine. It sold for £10,229,000/$15,371,118 (est. £7.5-10 million), after three telephone bidders aggressively chased the painting. It had last sold at Sotheby’s New York back in the art boom bubble of May 1989 for $11 million.
It would appear that the Impressionist and Modern market is no longer driven by bringing masterpieces to the block. Instead, buyers are passionate about works with lower seven and eight-figure prices. A perfect example of this trajectory is the cache of works that Jan Krugier’s heirs consigned to Christie’s with estimates that were startlingly out of register with the market. Colin Gleadell goes into the details:
The most radical change in estimate from previous sales was for two Picasso sculptures from the estate of dealer, Jan Krugier, which had been offered by Christie’s in New York in 2013 with respective estimates of $5–8 million and $25–35 million but didn’t sell. Now with vastly reduced estimates of £500,000–700,000 pounds and £5–7 million, the Picasso sculpture market looked strong again. The first, a wooden sculpture of a naked boy, sold for £869,000 to Acquavella Galleries, while the second, an iron and steel maquette for the large Tête that was made for Chicago’s Civic Centre in 1964, sold to a phone bidder for £8.9 million ($13.4 million). A third Picasso sculpture, a hand painted terracotta of an owl, La Chouette, set a record for a Picasso terracotta selling to Alex Platon of Marlborough Fine Art for £1,265,000 against a £350,00–450,000 estimate.
Gleadell also flagged some of the other strong showings like Rodin sculptures, including this posthumous cast that ignited a bidding war:
A 14-inch Rodin bronze, Desespoire, Grand Modele, saw a steep rise in price. It had been bought in Virginia last year for $260,000 and was cleverly placed in this sale, where it sold to an Asian buyer for £785,000 ($1.2 million).
Tully looked to the Surrealism sale to find another example of a very strong price rise for an artist who is hardly a household name:
Though less known in the branded, blue chip world of 20th-century bred art stars, Oscar Dominguez held his own, with his stunning and large-scale painting “Toro y Torero (Composition au taureau),” circa 1934-35, selling to Anthony McNerney of London’s Gurr Johns for £1,805,000/$2,712,374 (est. £1.3-2 million). It had last sold at the now storied André Breton estate auction at Calmels Cohen, Paris, in April 2003 for €320,000.
Finally, the highlight of the evening was a protracted battle over Kazmir Malevich’s self portrait:
The sensation of the sale however, was the bidding battle that erupted in the room over a small Malevich self-portrait on paper that sold in London 10 years ago for £162,000 and was back with a £1–1.5 million estimate and a guaranteed irrevocable bid. Sitting in the center of the room, Cologne dealer Alex Lachman who buys for Russian banker Petr Aven, found himself in an unlikely confrontation with London dealer, Harry Blain (not known for his interest in Russian art). Blain eventually won out, mobile phone pressed to his ear, paying £5.7 million ($8.6 million)—a record for a work on paper by Malevich.
Picasso’s Owl Overshadows Monet at $258 Million London Sale (Bloomberg Business)
Sotheby’s Imp/Mod/Surrealism Sale Breaks All London Records (BLOUIN ARTINFO)