This analysis of the Spring 2018 Impressionist and Modern sales (including the Rockefeller estate) results—including a look at market share by artist and a list of the most dynamic lots—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.
Nearly tripling the total sales volume of the previous Spring, New York’s May sales cycle was dominated by Impressionist and Modern art in way that has not been seen for more than a decade. Yes, a huge portion of that gain was due to the presence of more than $680m in Impressionist and Modern art from the Peggy and David Rockefeller estate. But even without that huge cache of high-quality material, the Impressionist and Modern category was up significantly in dollar volume.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, the Impressionist and Modern category was ascendant this season confirming a shift in the market also present last year in November. Indeed, without the additional material from Rockefeller, the sales totals were steady between November and May in New York.
Although the day sale totals have remained steady from November to May at around $100m, we’ve analyzed these numbers as one single event because the three Evening sales (Christie’s & Sotheby’s Imp-Mod Evening sales + the Rockefeller Evening sale of European art) accounted for $1.4bn of the the $1.544bn total in the category.
There were 862 lots offered in the category this May which is only ten more lots than in 2017. There was an increase in Evening sale lots for obvious reasons but far fewer than one would imagine (28) with the addition of another evening sale. This is partly because the Impressionist and Modern Evening sales were reduced in acknowledgement of the broad appeal and attention the Rockefeller lots would receive. The sell through rate for this year was much higher (84%) than the previous cycle which is certainly a Rockefeller effect. The estate was completely sold.
The value of Evening sale lots seems to have risen in response. In 2017, the May Evening sales had an average lot value of slightly less than $4.3m; the May 2018 Evening sales had an average lot value of almost $10.5m. The average lot value for all of the sold lots was $1.77m which is still far higher than the $989k average lot value for the entire sales cycle last May.
The hammer ratio (which is the aggregate hammer price of sold lots divided by the aggregate low estimate of all lots offered) was the same the Evening sale last year and the number of sold works that exceeded their estimates was slightly lower this year than last (39% v 41%.) The only conclusion to draw from that observation is that estimates remain quite strong. Across the art market but especially in the asset-heavy Imp-Mod market, expectations among sellers remain quite high and present the biggest challenge for anything but the most sought after works.
Because the market saw two nine-figure works sell and there were several others that achieved prices in the eight-figures, the percentage of the total sale that the top ten works represented was up to almost 53% of the Evening sales total. Those ten lots which include the Modigliani and Picasso work sold to their guarantors accounted for $740m in sales volume.
Those gargantuan sales gave Modigliani a 11.5% market share on the strength of only two lots (there was a $1m work bid up over estimates in the day sales;) but despite having the most valuable work sold during the cycle, Modigliani was third in market share behind Picasso and Monet who regularly hold those spots. And their market shares were roughly the same as the last two New York cycles (Nov and last May) when Picasso 16% and 20% market share respectively.
This season Picasso again accounted for 16% of the dollars spent. That’s a good sign. Monet has been climbing in market share from 8% a year ago to 10% in November to 13% this May. Part of the increase reflects the Rockefellers’ taste for the Monet, there was simply more work to sell and some of it out performed significantly.
Matisse also made a strong showing on the basis of the Rockefellers’ taste. A year ago, there was not enough Matisse work sold to make an appearance on the market share list. In November, the artist had only 4% of the dollars. But this season his record-breaking odalisque pushed him to fourth in the tables and 8% share. That puts Matisse above Malevich and Brancusi whose markets trade thinly like Matisse’s. When a major work comes available, though, it can have an impact.
Strong sales for Gauguin put the artist just above 4% in market share. Although there were a surprising number of Léger works on the market and his sales totaled almost $46m, the artist’s market share was 3.3%.
Turning to the list of top lots across all sales, we can begin to see the impact of estimates. Only 10 of the top 40 lots were able to generate bidding that pushed the works above the estimates. A slightly higher number of works were sold at compromise prices which were arrayed fairly evenly down the price spectrum from nine to eight to seven figures.
Judging from the very top of the market, there are few bargains available. That doesn’t mean buyers did not seek those bargains out.
Across the Evening sales, no doubt a product of the Rockefeller estate, there were a range of works at many price points that saw sometimes unexpected competition. Works by Gauguin, Monet, Schiele, Odilon Redon and Georgia O’Keeffe sold for multiples of the low estimates. Thomas Seydoux bought an Armand Seguin screen that after a prolonged bidding battle. A Mary Cassatt pastel that made an impressive $4.5m at Sotheby’s after originally being priced at $700k.A small round white Henry Moore sculpture from the Rockfeller estate made eleven times the low estimate. David Rockefeller’s only Botero made nearly $2m. Even Picasso was able to bring out the bidders for smaller works.