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The results from London’s Impressionist and Modern sales continue to reinforce the broader theme seen in that market seen in earlier sales this year. Once again, it is important to take note in this highly global market that the sales in New York with their extraordinary volume in the Impressionist and Modern category will necessarily have an effect on these sales in London.
The June sales cycle in London is shifting its composition and emphasis. But even with that caveat, the Impressionist and Modern category posted a greater overall total than the Contemporary market (obviously noting that the absence of an Evening sale in Contemporary art at Christie’s is what made the difference.
As noted in our previous reports, one of the crucial differences between the auction houses was the performance of a handful of lots. Had those works sold, the results would only have been further accentuated towards the themes we see here.
The Impressionist and Modern category remains a repository of value but that value is concentrated in fewer and fewer works. So the very top lots are the most consequential sales in the category. That trend has created a level of anticipation among sellers that has pushed estimates to a level that makes performance difficult, especially when backed up by guarantees. The overall hammer ratio for these sales was less than 1 which means the total volume of sales was lower than the aggregate low estimate. The 27% buy-in rate had a significant impact on the hammer ratio but the failure of most of the top lots to exceed estimates did not offset those losses either.
For the purposes of reference, the .93 hammer ratio in June’s sales was lower than the anemic day sales for Impressionist and Modern material in London in March. For the Evening sales alone in March the hammer ratio was 1.22 but here in June it was even lower than the aggregate or .925.
The top ten lots made up 54% of the total sale which is a strong measure of how concentrated the market is. The Evening sales had an average lot value of £2.7m which was 36 times the level of the day sale average lot which came in at £70k. Across all the sales, the average lot value was £409k, which is an indicator of the asset value of the category as a whole.
Moving to market share, we can see that the commanding position that Picasso took in March, where his works were being snapped up by at least one zealous buyer to constitute 42% of the market, was diminished to 25% of the overall market. That decline is more of an indication that Picasso returned to a more familiar market share than any diminution.
Much of the rest of the market share was determined by the performance of only a few lots. Monet’s 15% of the market was shored up by the sale of two particular works that made up the bulk of the total. Though there were some noticeable buy-ins that would have further increased his market share. Giacometti’s market share rests primarily on two works as did Matisse’s and Kirchner’s. Rodin, Malevich, Braque, Kandinsky and Pissarro all relied upon the sale of a single work to get their place on the table.
Only Camille Claudel, represented by a group of works sold, was able to have a prominent position with the results spread fairly evenly among her works.
The list of top 40 lots sold during the auctions shows aggressive bidding only in isolated instances. This sales cycle was a market for collectors whose eye fell upon particular works like the Franz Marc that Jeffrey Loria bought for his personal collection or the Rodin lifetime cast that excited bidders. Kandinsky’s painting of Gabrielle Munter seems to have been very well estimated to encourage bidding. Three of the 11 Marc Chagall works were driven to strong prices well above the estimates, including two that made the top 40 list.Among the works that saw the most aggressive bidding, a very low value Francoise Gilot painting was bid to five times the high estimate continuing a quiet trend in this market of her work being acquired with some regularity.
There were only two works with seven figure estimates that made the list of most dynamic lots, the Franz Marc and the Rodin lifetime cast. But there were four works bid up significantly from six-figure estimates to seven-figure premium prices. Buyers are combing through these sales looking for works that have escaped the category-wide trend of high expectations.