Christie’s £128m Impressionist and Modern Evening sale in London, working off a similar estimate range as its rivals, was demonstration of the value of just getting things right. The two top lots, a Picasso and a rare example of Monet’s Gare Saint-Lazare series, sold without much excitement. But they sold at or around expectations which did no damage to the sale’s total. That opened the door for Christie’s to make great gains with two or three works that surprised to the upside.
The two most dynamic lots were a lifetime cast of Auguste Rodin’s Kiss which sold for £12.6m over a £7m high estimate and Franz Marc’s Drei Pferde sold for £15.4m over a £3.5m high estimate. The bidding battle on the Marc was as intense as it was unexpected topped only by the unusual fact that art dealer Jeffrey Loria took the additional step of having Christie’s inform the press that he had bought the work for his personal art collection (drawing a distinction from his other holdings that only raised more questions than it answered.)
The fact that outsized gains came from lots with more modest estimates further emphasizes that the top of the market is both fully priced and potentially spent out after the Rockefeller sale. The $700+m that was spent on Impressionist and Modern art in New York at the Rockefeller sale was effectively another major season of spending in the category inserted into the first half of the year.
The secret to Christie’s sale may have been Asian buyers who were mostly absent from Rockefeller but took up about a third of the London Evening sale, according to the auction house.
Colin Gleadell illustrated how in his report for artnet’s news site:
Asian bidding was more apparent on a lifetime cast of Rodin’s Baiser, which sold to a client of Christie’s vice president, director of Impressionist & Modern art for Asia, Elaine Holt, for £12.6 million ($16.6 million), well above its high estimate of £7 million, against competition from Oslo-based dealer Ben Frija.
All told, it was a busy sale for Christie’s Asian representatives, who also acquired works by Diego Giacometti, Egon Schiele, Monet, Renoir, and Camille Claudel on behalf of clients on the phone. Claudel, a lover of Rodin’s, benefitted particularly from strong Asian interest. Of the six bronzes by Claudel in the sale, five sold to a client of Holt’s. One, The Waltz, last sold in 2003 for $254,400; this time around, it fetched £1.1 million ($1.5 million).
Chinese buyers have become enamored of Marc Chagall lately. Several of his works were featured at the beginning of both auction houses’ sales and during the day sales too. Christie’s early entry was a vase of flowers painted in 1926 was bid up by a Chinese rep who lost out three other bidders when it sold for £3.12m.
Sometimes even the middling performance of a lot seems to upset observers but not because the works didn’t sell. Georgina Adam, writing in The Art Newspaper, wasn’t very happy to see a middle market Cézanne make a modest sale:
Probably the most inexplicable result was Cézanne’s La Conversation (1870-71), a frankly hideous composition showing two crinolined women in a park. Estimated at £1m-£1.5m, it sold for £1.2m to a client of James Butterfield, who specialises in Russian art. “I advised him not to buy it, but he wanted to,” said Butterfield after the sale: “But at least he also bought the Matisse.”