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Christie’s is making a play to continue the chugging market advance of works by Jean Dubuffet. Over the last two years, works sold at auction have achieved the top 6 prices for the artist’s work. In fact, 13 of the top 20 prices have been achieved since 2014.
In March, the London sales will feature this work from 1963 that Christie’s is touting as a pivot between the Paris Circus series, which attracted the top two prices in 2015 and 2016, and the Hourloupe works that so many recognize as the artist’s mature work. Given the spectacular results for the Paris Circus works—both made just under $25m with the top price achieved by the first one to come to market (reportedly sold by Steven Cohen)—Christie’s work isn’t estimated anywhere near the record price. But if it succeeds, Etre et Paraitre will be the third highest priced work by the artist to be sold publicly.
As compelling as these top prices are, the market action on Dubuffet, as demonstrated in the analysis of November’s sales below, is not at the top.
Dubuffet sales in November, 2016 were bi-furcated. There was a single lot that came within a hair’s breadth of the record price achieved the previous year. The fourteen lots offered among the three houses had a combined low estimate of $21.6m. Eleven of those 14 lots found buyers for a solid 78% sell-through rate.
The combined premium price of the 11 lots that sold was $33.3m. On a hammer ratio basis, the group of paintings had relatively strong 1.33. That means the aggregate of the lots sold toward the high end of the estimate range.
From the chart above, you can see that half of the lots sold at or below the low estimate. The strong above-estimate sale of Les Grandes Artères, the top lot said to be on offer from Marina Picasso who shopped the work privately before taking a third party guarantee, did a great deal to goose the overall numbers. Removing that nearly $24m lot from the chart allows us to see a bit more detail on which works sold best.
At Sotheby’s, the top lot was a 1949 work from the Paysages Grotesques series, L’Adieu a la Fenetre, made two years after the Dubuffets came back from their first significant trip to the Sahara dessert, came up short of the high estimate but sold quite well for almost $2.9m.
The three works that out-performed estimates all carried expectations in the six figures, though one was bid into the seven figures. At Sotheby’s there was a small sculpture of a tree once owned by Ernst Beyeler’s gallery, that got $520k bid against a $400k high estimate during the day sale. Enfin Chez Soi which was bought from the Pierre Matisse gallery by a single owner yet wound up on Sotheby’s own books. Holding the 1957 work proved a wise move as the $1m high estimate proved 20% too low for the bidders who eventually paid $1.45m with premium.
Christie’s has a smaller work painted in 1982 that was owned by the vendor since 1998. The buyers were only too happy to pay 50% more than the high estimate or $367,500 for the work. All indications from the New York sales are that the Dubuffet market remains strong but selective.
A few weeks later in Paris, Christie’s made a few more solid sales for Dubuffet. Among them was a $3.1m work from 1961 that sold solidly within estimates.