The state of the Impressionist and Modern art category, with its emphasis on exceptional works, and the status of London’s June sales were the subtext of last night’s sale at Christie’s.
The £149.5m sale total reflected a slight 4% miss of the overall low estimate confirming last week’s evidence that estimates in the Impressionist and Modern category have gotten ahead of the overall market itself.
Athena Art Finance’s sales statistics gave the average estimate range for the sale as £4.1m to £5.8m, a fairly wide range. The average hammer price for the 30 lots sold was £4.4m. The most desirable Impressionist and Modern art is quite valuable and, as such, has become more of a tangible asset than other categories.
That brings us to the second subtext which is the changing schedule and the scope of the Modern category. Christie’s included two lots (a Fontana and a Riopelle) that would not have normally been sold in a Imp-Mod sale. The reason might simply have been to satisfy consignors who could not wait for their October sales cycle. But Jussi Pylkkanen added fuel to the speculation that the industry may start pulling post-war works of art into the Modern (or 20th Century, as Christie’s calls it) category. “The boundaries are changing,” Pylkkanen said in the after sale press conference carried on Facebook Live.
The bulk of the lots offered were sold below £5m but two-thirds of the cash went toward five lots demonstrating the bias toward works of exceptional value. Even among the under £5m lots there were a couple of rarely traded artists (Höch and Vantongerloo) whose exceptional works reached record prices.
The night’s top lot was just such a work. His widely admired Max Beckmann was being sold to benefit a trust for his children and grand-children. Feigen, a long-time lion of the trade, has been settling his affairs for several years now with major sales of Turner, Gentileschi, and now Beckmann.
The frequent critic of auction houses, chandelier bidding and guarantees was eager to hedge his bets in all three of these recent major sales by selling through auction houses and insisting on a guarantee.
The Master, Judd Tully, spoke to him after the £36m sale:
Reached by phone shortly after the sale, Feigen, who watched the auction from the fifth row in the salesroom, sounded bittersweet. “It didn’t bring what I hoped, I was hoping for a lot more. I’m disappointed to lose it. I’ve had it for thirty-five years.”
Other dealers and interested parties present at the sales viewed the results as positive but muted leaving room for both optimism for a future upside and a sense of confidence that the market is not overheated.
Here’s The Art Newspaper:
Tom Mayou, of London advisers Beaumont Nathan, described the Christie’s offering as “a very solid lineup for London at this time of year”. Smaller than the May sales in New York, “this shows healthy progress from last year. Every sign is that we’re in an upward cycle.”
Judd Tully got this:
“The only calamity was the Schiele,” said Guy Jennings, the London based managing director of the Fine Art Group, “I thought it didn’t quite sing. The market,” continued Jennings, referring to the Impressionist and Modern field, “is certainly not bubbling hot.”
The one area of the market that is hot, if not bubbling, is Asian interest in European Modernism. Colin Gleadell kept an eye on Asian bidding and was rewarded with substantial action:
There was notable bidding from Asia throughout the sale, with six of the top ten lots attracting Asian bidding and buying. These included Vincent van Gogh’s vivid Le Moissonneur (d’après Millet) (1889), which was guaranteed (and carried a pre-sale estimate of £12.5–16.5 million). It was chased by bidders from Spain and China, as well as the Belgian art advisor Alex Brontmann, but eventually sold to an American phone bidder for £24.2 million ($30.9 million). […] There was also significant Asian bidding on works by Chagall, Matisse, Degas, Picasso, and Monet. Monet’s Weeping Willow (1918–19) sold to a Chinese bidder for £8.9 million, half its £15–25 million estimate. Four Asian bidders also fought for Monet’s idyllic, more decorative Le Chemin Creux (1882), before it eventually sold to Elaine Holt of Christie’s Hong Kong for £5.6 million, double its estimate of £2–3 million.