This look at the last 12 years of Sotheby’s June Impressionist and Modern Evening sale performance 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.
As we showed you yesterday with charts from our friends at Pi-eX, the June Evening sales of Impressionist and Modern art in London have become highly dependent upon the success of a few highly valued works of art that are often offered without published estimates. Sotheby’s results both confirm that trend and show how susceptible a sales cycle can be to a few unlucky lots.
In June of 2016, the choice to offer two superb lots without published guidance in the form of a Modigliani portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne and Picasso’s portrait of Fernande Olivier was richly rewarded with a £81m or the vast majority of the evening’s sales volume.
Success breeds emulation. The next year, Sotheby’s was able to pull in £57m against two works with estimates upon request, a rare Miró Constellation and a Kandinsky near abstract from his pivotal year of 1913.
This year, unfortunately, the lots without published estimates, a Giacometti cat sold not-too-long-ago and Picasso from his crucial and now-celebrated year of 1932, made only £39m. With another £20m in failed lots, the sale under-shot the previous five years for Sotheby’s.
Pi-eX’s charts show the hammer total for the sales, above, including the works with estimates upon request (black bars.) These show how substantial those two works were in terms of the overall sales volume and the declining efficacy of the tactic.As a category, we can see from Pi-eX’s framing of the overall estimates that the works sold with estimates were unable to reach the low aggregate estimate level for the last three years. The top of the Imp-Mod category clearly struggles against the seller’s assumptions.
Part of the problem may simply be the kind of price anchoring that doesn’t allow sellers to part with their works for a price attractive to buyers if it fails to meet the levels at which the buyer acquired the work. In plain english, that means the salad days of the “masterpiece market” in 2013-2015 are no longer here. Selling a work bought in those heady times means being prepared to get back most of your money, not make a profit. For many sellers, this would seem too much take on. Estimates remain more aspirational than effective guidance.
That’s something shown in the price paid for the Picasso from 1932. It was significantly lower than the whisper number for the work. That performance helped contribute to the low average lot performance against estimates charted below.
Finally, Pi-eX’s performance analysis showing catalogue works with works selling above the low estimate balanced by those that were bought in. June of 2018 records the strongest imbalance toward lots bought in. There have been years, notably 2010 when sellers were keen to respond to a revived market, where the value of bought in lots was near this week’s level at Sotheby’s. But those sales were balanced by a much stronger performance by estimated lots.