This analysis of the London Impressionist and Modern auction sales results—made possible with data from our partners at Live Auction Art—is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscribers get the first month free on monthly subscriptions. Feel free to cancel at any time before the month is up. Sign up for AMMpro here.
The London sales cycle of Impressionist and Modern art showed a resurgence in value in the category. When the Impressionist and Modern works included in Phillips sale held during the week of Contemporary art auctions are added to the Impressionist and Modern sales totals at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the Impressionist and Modern category significantly out-performed Contemporary art.
Our numbers show almost £393m in total sales for Impressionist and Modern art in London which is nearly £50m more than the sales volume for Contemporary art (we’ll publish those numbers shortly.) Here the news is that more money was spent on Modern art. And the overall driver of that spending is the market for works by Pablo Picasso.
The market share numbers (shown below) make the case in the starkest manner. But first let’s address some high-level learnings from the sales.
The Impressionist and Modern category may be resurgent but the market growth comes in the most concentrated form. The top ten lots in all of the sales account for 46% of the combined sales day and evening. To further underscore this bias toward the top works by the top artists, the day sales accounted for a mere 12.5% of the combined total. Though both day and evening sales have the same healthy-but-not-spectacular 78% sell-through rate on the almost 800 lots offered.
The average prices for Evening lots versus Day sale lots also underscores the point that the Impressionist and Modern market focuses value in a few works of exceptionally high quality.
The average evening lot was £2.9m; the average day lot was only £97k. The gap in value is quite wide. An average day sale lot has just 3% of the value of an evening sale lot.
Even among the Evening sale lots, only a minority of the works sold were the subject to heated bidding. A full third of the Evening lots exceeded the estimates; 43% of the lots met expectations; and, a little below a quarter of the sold lots were let go at compromise prices.
Turning to the top lots, we can see that the overall bidding was strong. And bidders drove most of the top lots to prices above estimates. Slightly more than half of the top 45 lots were bid above the high estimates. Only a small handful, six, failed to reach their low estimates.
This is in contrast to many seasons when the top lots were estimated above buyer’s interest. Particularly striking in a category that can often witness very valuable works in a standoff with bidders resulting in prices below the low estimate, this season saw aggressive competition for eight-figure lots and works by, Monet, Picasso and Matisse being bid up from seven to eight figures.
Beneath the top ten works, there is a thick band of more than a dozen works that were all subject to aggressive bidding. With the exception of Lynn Chadwick and Frantisek Kupka, the lots are all be artists with household names.
When we shift to look at the works that attracted the most intense competition, the story changes dramatically. Buyers were all over the price spectrum when they launched into bidding wars. The lot that achieved a price that was the greatest multiple of its low estimate was a five-figure lot by Theo van Rysselberghe that achieved a six-figure price. But just below it was a Monet that got promoted from low six-figures to seven-figures. The rest of the list is a smattering of familiar and obscure names, of higher value and modest value.
Finally, the market share figures show in the starkest terms what’s going on this market. Pablo Picasso, the perennial market share leader, eclipsed all other artists this season by achieving a 42% share. That’s an extraordinary number even for Picasso.
Following behind him are the usual suspects of Monet, Magritte and Matisse. But there are other names that either surprise by their presence or by the small size of the market share. Andre Derain made a good showing at nearly 3% market share even though one of the Evening sale lots by the artist was withdrawn from sale. Strong showings by Morandi, van Rysselberghe, Frantisek Kupka and Erich Heckel are worth noting. Some artists like Lynn Chadwick and Umberto Boccioni made an impact on market share with a single work.
Having made the point that the market is top-heavy and skewed toward the highest value works, it is worth noting the presence of Bernard Buffet on the market share list along with several of the names mentioned above that do not appear in Evening sales.