This recap of Christie’s Impressionist-Modern and Surrealist Evening sale in London is available to AMMpro subscribers. Monthly subscriptions begin with the first month free. Feel free to subscribe and cancel before you are billed.
Christie’s Evening sales of Impressionist and Modern art as well as Surrealist art last night were a success by the numbers. The combined sales made £149.5m which was £13m more than the same sales a year before. If you are looking to those numbers to give you some sense of market direction or mood for what Christie’s now calls the 20th Century art market, you ought to look elsewhere. The sales were punctuated with lots that were avidly pursued though price levels proved important. Estimates over £5m saw light bidding and after many seasons where the auction houses have actively managed their sales to present high sell-through rates, Christie’s ran two large sales last night that they were more than willing to let ‘sell-through’ at only 78% of the works. Make no mistake, 78% is traditionally a solid, very business-like sale result. Only in the last few years of hyper-competition (with the added sense that the Impressionist and Modern market needed to project stability,) have the the sell-through rates consistently posted in the high 80s or low 90s.
We will have a more detailed analysis of the lot-by-lot sales in the next two weeks. For now, here are some impressions.
The size of both sales along with the several collections on offer, the sparse press attention and the languid bidding on many of the lots (along with the uneven quality of some of the lots) gave the feeling that Christie’s was willing to hold more of combined day and evening sale at night. The presentation of this sale with the Rockefeller works surrounding it also left this event looking like a curtain raiser.
Gurr Johns’s Harry Smith hoovering up all of the Picasso works from the Impressionist and Modern session only added to that impression. Colin Gleadell pointed out on Artnet that Smith declined to stay for the Surrealist sale where there were more Picassos. Nonethless, he bought the top lot of the evening, a late Picasso at £13.7m on down to the £1.2m work on paper.
Smith then went on to buy all seven Picassos in this section of the sale, spending more than £40 million of his client’s money and outbidding challengers from Asia, and the Acquavella and Lefevre galleries—all without ever breaking into a smile.
Forty million isn’t really bargain hunting and though there seemed to be little to connect the seven works, Smith didn’t walk away with them by any means. There was stiff competition from varied corners on all of the lots. Austrian architect Harry Gluck’s Picasso made £8m which was an improvement over a very similar work painted a day earlier that was sold at Sotheby’s in 2011 for $8m:
A Chinese buyer outbid New York’s Acquavella Galleries for it at an above estimate £8.3 million. Asian interest has noticeably warmed to the Surrealist aesthetic, and was particularly focussed on the work of Magritte. At least two Asian bidders competed for Magritte’s graphic L’Oasis, which sold above estimate for £3.5 million.
Like Harry Smith, other European buyers were successful in the sale. The top Monet of the evening was bought by an art advisor after some competitive bidding. But the work sold for the same price as another Giverny painting that got a last-minute 3rd party guarantee at the same hammer price. Some experts in that market suggest that the sales may have been an interesting case where prices converged as a function of the estimates.
In the case of the Giverny painting, the seller wanted a strong estimate but had to accept an offer below the low estimate. In the end, the process might have achieved a better result for the seller than if the work had been offered with a lower estimate. In contrast, the Vétheuil painting may have made more money simply from the attractive estimates and enhanced competition.
The sales had several lots where unexpected comparisons could be made. Early in the Impressionist and Modern sale, Christie’s offered a run of small Morandi still lifes from Harry Gluck’s estate that attracted bids from members of the Nahmad and Acquavella families. The lots were presented and estimated with expectations that the 1942 work would be the most sought after. The work was estimated at £600-900k but barely reached the high end of the estimate range. It sold for £1.02m. A 1949 work with a £350k low estimate out performed to make almost £850k. The final later work from 1957 also outperformed the low ambitions of its £400k estimate to make slightly more than the early work at £1.06m.
The Frances Picabia painting from the recent retrospective did even better than the Morandi works. Estimated at £900k, the painting was bid up to £3m with fees.
Both van Rysselberghe works sold for £900k despite coming from different estimates. The horse-racing scene from the Triton collection and a portrait of Auguste Weber last bought publicly at the very height of the credit bubble art market (and then quietly re-sold privately through a dealer,) followed the strong sale of the artist’s harborscape at Sotheby’s in New York last November.
In the Surrealism sale, a 1926 Magritte made a very solid £7.2m even if the estimate range made the sale seem lackluster. Something similar was at play with the Degas work that sold for £8.9m just above the low estimate. However, the 26 x 14 inch scale of the work makes the price far more impressive.
Also worth noting was the strong price £3.6m for a Miró dream painting in the Surrealism sale.