Our friends at Pi-eX have compiled a look at the Impressionist and Modern Evening sales using data they compile. These charts don’t include works from the category sold in single-owner or curated sales and they separate estimated works from works with an estimate upon request with only the first chart adding the estimated upon request works into the totals. All of the figures are based upon hammer prices to exclude any variation in terms.
The headline is that this is the strongest Impressionist and Modern season in the dozen years covered by the data. That excludes the Rockefeller sale too. Only in 2012 and 2015 did the category outperform estimates. Even then it was only with works estimated upon request that are not calculated into the overall high and low estimates. The high-water mark for the category was May of 2105 when the sales totals were about the same as they had been in 2014. Estimates had been re-calibrated in 2015 after the underperformance of the previous year.
Category totals finally exceeded the 2015 level (including works estimated upon request) suggesting the Impressionist and Modern market may continue to see a revival if the auction houses can generate worthy supply.
Switching to a look at the average price chart (below), we can see that the average price for an estimated lot in both sales was at the highest level in the data range. Two years after the average price in the category somewhat fell through the floor, average price exceeded the 2015 high. What does this tell us about the market? The great un-answered question in the category is what caused 2016 reset in average prices? The drop in 2009 is obviously a product of the 2009 credit crisis. But in 2016, the market momentum stalled. Could it have been the uncertainty around the 2016 election and the rise of Donald Trump? Perhaps.
In general, the Impressionist and Modern market has been smaller in terms of dollar volume but acted as more of a store of value. Works in the Imp-Mod market are more likely to be bought—and treated—as assets. The under-performance in May of 2106 did not result in a re-set of estimates a year later. In fact, the average estimates rose from 2016 to 2017. They rose again this year on top of last year’s prices too. Without the pullback of the last two years the rise is flattening out.