A brief look at the sales pattern, offers some clues to what’s driving the new Bernard Buffet market:
“There is a recent and well-deserved resurgence of market interest in this artist,” said Jay Vincze, head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s London. “A very global audience is looking at high quality Western art today, and buyers respond to Buffet’s bold, graphic style and expressive colors.” […] “He is considered good value in the market with a lot of room to move.”
All of this is fine and good. The art market thrives on rediscoveries and changes of taste. But the recent boom in Buffet sales ought to be examined more closely.
The record price for Buffet was set in London this June for a late work Les Clown Musiciens, Le Saxophone from 1991. Christie’s was able to sell it for just about £1m or $1.5m right in the estimate range. That sale came after the previous top price was achieved in February on Israeli auction platform Matsart. That was a 1955 depiction of the Eiffel Tower that made a hair less than $1m.
In 2015, Sotheby’s sold a red clown from 1975 for $634k in the November sales. Before that, Artcurial saw some fireworks in Hong Kong last October when a clown picture made three times the estimate to sell for a little more than $400k.
There was a Bouquet of Zinnias from 1964 that sold very well in New York in November of 2014 for $581k over a $400k high estimate.
In April, that year, Christie’s did well with a clown picture in its Shanghai debut auction where one made $791k, a huge number compared to previous prices. That sale may have been primed by the February sale that year of an early version of the clowns, a 1956 Arlequin that made $750k in London.
Colin Gleadell first noticed the current taste for clown paintings back in 2012. That led to some top sales in 2014 which was the first time Buffet’s market had seen real movement in nearly a quarter century. As Gleadell points out in his piece, the clowns destroyed what was left of Buffet’s reputation as a painter.
Today, a taste for clowns among what seem to be Asian buyers is driving the current market forward while other collectors are focusing on the early works from the height of Buffet’s reputation. The question is whether these two markets are related or run in parallel. The answer will have to wait until after this week’s sales.
Buffet: A Life of Success, Rejection and Now a Celebration (The New York Times)