This recap of Sotheby’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.
Helena Newman finally lost her patience during Sotheby’s Evening sale of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist art last night. Earlier in the evening, the top lot, a Picasso, was sold in a grueling bidding war that saw bids chopped so fine they amounted to 3/4 of a percent rise in price. The winning bidder even took the strange precaution of moving from bidding on the floor to bidding by telephone midway through the sale. The persistent reluctance of Sotheby’s Asia head Patti Wong to spend a pound more than necessary so flustered Newman that on several occasions, clearly hoping for a move that would break the logjam of split bids, she mistook yet another fractional bid for a jumped bid well above the expected next bid. Then, near the end of the sale, as the featured Salvador Dalí works were being sold, Newman cried out as Wong tried to chop yet another bid:
“Oh come on Patti, we will be here all night!”
As trying as the bidding was, it was worth it in the end for Sotheby’s. The entire sale made £136m with nearly a 77% sell-through rate confirming Christie’s decision to let the category settle where it may instead of trying to project confidence through higher sell-through rates as both houses have come to do with Contemporary art.
Sotheby’s held a much smaller sale than Christie’s but wound up in nearly the same place with the sale buy-in rates. The Master, Judd Tully, confirmed the feelings of the market with this quote:
“What did we learn from this week?” queried Guy Jennings, managing director of the London based Fine Art Group, “nothing flew away and tonight it was like pulling teeth. It was painful to behold. The market is pretty solid without being crazy and it’s tough to get the really good things.”
With only 36 lots sold in the evening’s work, and more than a third of the sale’s total coming from the Picasso portrait that sold for £49m, there wasn’t a great deal of directional information to come out of the sale. The Art Newspaper‘s Anna Brady was quick to point out that Asian buyers have latched on to Surrealism in a big way with several Magrittes in Christie’s sale going to Asian buyers. Colin Gleadell followed up with this comment on those Dalís:
A buyer from the region outgunned dealer Olivier Malingue for Gradiva (1931), a tiny painting by Salvador Dalí once owned by a Brazilian countess and never before on the market. It sold for double its estimate at £2.7 million ($3.7 million). The same Asian buyer prevailed over bids from Malingue and the Beaumont Nathan advisory team to secure Dalí’s Maison Pour Érotomane (1932) for £3.5 million ($4.9 million).
Another success Gleadell points to is Sotheby’s Derain which doubled in selling price after eight years:
Estimated at £7.5–10 million with a third-party guarantee, Sotheby’s Derain had previously been sold in 2011 for £5.9 million. (Thomas Seydoux, who was working at Christie’s at the time, placed the winning bid, presumably on behalf of one of his Russian clients.) This time around, the Derain sold for £10.9 million ($15.1 million) to Acquavella Galleries, which beat out several bidders, including advisors Beaumont Nathan.
Judd Tully points to some other places where prices are still rising, mostly due to a changing acceptance of what constitutes the artist’s work:
a Giacometti bronze sculpture, “Buste d’homme sur socle” from a posthumous casting dated from an edition of ten in 1990 reached £1,809,500/$2,512,520 (est. £400-600,000). It last sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2002 for £201,500, showing the market’s increasing acceptance of posthumous bronzes by the artist. In other words, there was no touch of Giacometti’s hand in the bronze.
Not all of the big names are performing as well, according to Tully.
Claude Monet garden vista hitting the top ten lot makers with the gently jeweled “La porte du jardin a Vetheuil” from 1881 selling for £3,086,400/$4,286,701 (est. £2-3 million). It last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2007 for $2,728,000, a rather flat line indicator in value over an eleven year period.
But the biggest name in the 20th century art market, Picasso, now looks surprisingly undervalued when judged by the price paid for a small Marie-Therese portrait. Yes, the painting appears to have come from the family. And Bernard Ruiz-Picasso made a shrewd decision to time the sale in a market lull (though not confident enough to have eschewed an irrevocable bid) that made the work the focal point of the season just as Christie’s was exhibiting the Rockefeller rose-period work that looks like it may again push the top of the Picasso market up.
If one looks at the top ten public prices paid for a Picasso, among which the family’s work ranks at number five, the prices seem quite low for this market leviathan. Indeed, except for the Femmes D’Algiers work that made $179m two and half years ago, the other top prices for Picasso works were paid almost a decade or more ago.
The rest of the art market has moved much higher judging by the price paid for a Basquiat and a Leonardo publicly and several Warhols both publicly and privately. So there are good reasons to believe that Picasso market is about to move.
Even with that, some of the savviest market participants are still scratching their heads at what might lie behind Gurr Johns’s engrossing of Picasso works:
“I am having a hard time imagining who would want to buy so many very different quality Picassos in one spurt,” David Nash, an art dealer specializing in Impressionist and modern art, said in an email. “The real question is who was Gurr Johns buying for? And for what purpose?”
Sotheby’s Slow but Steady (Judd Tully)