This recap of the coverage of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscribers get the first month free of charge. Feel free to subscribe and cancel before you are billed.
The record for the highest dollar volume evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art was set in 2007 with a sale that brought in what seemed like an unsurpassable $491m. That year was thought to be the apex of the art market boom and a break-through moment in the public’s consciousness that art was becoming extraordinarily valuable.
After the global financial crisis, the Impressionist and Modern category has witnessed the punctuated success of individual lots. The sales haven’t quite dominated the way Contemporary art does. Last night at Christie’s, due to the presence of several estates, the long evening of labored bidding with a few moments of spirited competition distracted from the fact that Christie’s had assembled and executed a substantial achievement. Let’s remember that Christie’s has had a bumpy decade in this category where its greatest successes seemed to take place in curated sales.
Artnews’s Nate Freeman notes that the two sales preceding this one hardly hinted at what might be coming for the category with the estate windfall:
In May of this year, the total was a respectable $289 million, but the same sale a year ago netted just $165 million
Last night, Christie’s came terribly close to matching that record sale mostly without the kind of tense bidding that has punctuated some of it’s bigger successes. The Bass van Gogh, like the sale itself, came close to matching the record price paid for a van Gogh 30 years ago. (Adjusting for inflation means the two sales are hardly comparable.) But everything about Christie’s sale was quieter, more business-like and efficiently buttoned up.
This is what at least one dealer told Robin Pogrebin and Scott Reyburn of the New York Times:
“It was a very good sale,” said Paul Gray of the Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago. “There was thin bidding, but they succeeded in just about everything.”
Thin bidding, yes. And slow pace from the auctioneer in the box, Adrian Meyer, who now heads the department and is taking the sales as well. Even with Meyer’s measured call, 88% of the works sold. The source of the sale’s high volume and value is surely the estate works, but one lot of dealer material gives us a better sense of Christie’s accomplishment.
Rene Magritte’s painting, L’ empire des lumieres had been seen at art fairs and offered by the UK dealer Dickinson. The price was said to be too ambitious for buyers; the work languished. When the lot was announced for the sale, several knowledgeable followers of the Magritte market raised eyebrows. But, as the Master, Judd Tully notes in his auction report:
[It] sold in the room to New York private dealer Rick Lapham for a record $20,562,500 (est. $14-18 million). It was the first of the day for night paintings in the artist’s famed series and was once owned by Nelson A. Rockefeller. It is understood that the anonymous seller hails from Dubai. Buttonholed outside the salesroom, Lapham said, “it’s a beautiful painting in beautiful condition and I’m very happy.” Lapham said he bought it on behalf of an American client.
Tully also noted the buying in bulk that took place at the sale:
Claude Monet’s beautifully serene and atmospheric cover lot, Matinee sur la Seine from 1897 sold to New York private dealer Nancy Whyte for $23,376,000 (est. $15-25 million). Whyte, armed with paddle number 237, also nabbed Emile Nolde’s wildly exuberant “Indische Tanzerin (Indian Dancer)” from 1917 for a record $5,262,500 (est. $2.5-3.5 million) and Paul Cezanne’s petite still life, “Poires dans une assiette blanche from 1879-80 for $6,837,500 (est. $5-7 million).
Artnet’s Eileen Kinsella says Whyte wasn’t the only bulk buyer:
Though Wei successfully secured the prize lot of the evening for her client, the collector clearly wasn’t finished. At other points, Wei used the same paddle number for the phone buyer to secure an 1884 Renoir portrait for $8.2 million and a 1969–1970 Marc Chagall painting for $1.6 million. In all, her client dropped $91 million on three works in tonight’s sale.
The Art Newspaper canvassed the room for reactions:
“Christie’s had a great night. Everyone has to feel good about the results”, said the private dealer Baird W. Ryan, of Morgan Walker Fine Art in New York. “The quality of items really was incredible.” He had come to take a shot at the monumental Henry Moore bronze, Reclining Figure (1982), but found himself shut out. The work changed hands at Sotheby’s London in February 2010 for £3.6m ($5.8m) with premium but here fetched $9.5m hammer ($11m with fees), just above the $7m to $10m estimate. […]
Pressed to identify a downside, Tom Mayou, the director of London advisory Wentworth Beaumont, said, “possibly polarisation in performance—it is all too easy to predict which lots will perform well or less well these days”. But overall, he adds, “If I was over at the other auction house I’d be breathing one hopeful sigh of relief. The big question leading into the week was, ‘will the demand be deep enough to absorb all this increase in supply?’”
Will give Nate Freeman the last word with this observation on Asian buyers who provided the competition that eventually enlivened this Picasso lot:
Charmie Hamami, who is based in Jakarta, successfully beat out Imp-Mod deputy chairman Conor Jordan to win Pablo Picasso’s Femme accroupie (Jacqueline), 1954, snagging it for $36.9 million with fees.
Van Gogh Injects Excitement Into Otherwise Solid Auction at Christie’s (The New York Times)
Impressionist and Modern Sizzling Evening Records (Judd Tully)
Christie’s $479.3m Impressionist and Modern sale hits (The Art Newspaper)