The volume of Picasso material on the market in the next two weeks has gotten all of the pre-sales attention—and with good reason. But the other perennial market leader, Claude Monet, is also having a big week or two in New York. Since the London sales cycle put up a solid ~$35m in sales for the Impressionist master, the combination of the Rockefeller’s taste for Monet and the market’s affection for the artist has brought another ~$125m in paintings to the auction block.
Our friends at Athena Art Finance ran some numbers for us looking back over the last 12 years of sales to show Monet’s market share along with the rise and fall of his market volume. Before we get to those, it is important to remember that unlike some of the modern masters or works by Cezanne and Gauguin sold on the private market, Monet’s top prices have somewhat lagged. It took nearly a decade for a work to outsell Monet’s previous record price. Even at that, it barely nudged the top price for the artist above the previous $80m mark.
At the height of the previous market, in the Summer of 2008, a Nymphéas long held in a Midwest collection made $80m when an advisor known to work with Russian Oligarchs bought it for twice the previous record set the previous month in New York. Since that time, there have been a number of works sold at prices in between those to reference points. Nonetheless, it has been hard for Monet to set a new top price.
Above is a chart of the top ten artists for each year from 2006 to 2017. Below we have isolated Monet in the matrix to make it easier for you to read. Except for 2006 and 2012, Monet retains a meaningful position in the pantheon of high value artists. His works may not set records but the demand remain strong and prices hold up to support.
One of the challenges to the Monet market can be seen in the chart below. Monet’s average value peaked in 2016, the year a grainstack set the a record price that constituted half of the total sales volume for that year. The chart suggests that the rising value for Monet works has acted as a brake on selling. Collectors may view their Monets as simply to valuable to sell. Whatever price achieved now may only be at the cost of a future higher price.
You can see from the chart that 2016 and 2017 had the same volume of sales even though no major work came to market. We can infer from this that the strong showing of the grainstacks encouraged more sellers to bring works to market. Even without an $80m painting, the Monet market was able to maintain an average price above $5m.
Indeed, it would seem that 2014 and 2015 were crucial years in the Monet market when total volume surged well above the previous peak even as the average price held below 2008 in 2014. In 2014, the top three works sold for $110m or nearly half of the total volume. The next year, the top three works were 40% of the total volume which had surged by 35%. Simply put, there were several more works by Monet that achieved prices above $10m that year.
Late in 2017, a work depicting an arch of roses at Giverny was sold for a price only slightly above the price achieved a decade earlier in dollar terms. Changing tastes clearly played some part in the lack of upward movement for the work as did currency arbitrage (the work was bought in the UK in 2007 and sold in New York in 2017.)
Nonetheless, the price stability offers a bit of caution as so many Monets go on the block tonight at the Rockefeller sale where estimates are already high due to the provenance. If the works sold in May achieve expectations, Monet’s market will have reached the volume of 2013 with two more auction cycles left in the calendar year.