This analysis of the November 2018 Impressionist and Modern sales in New York is available to AMMpro subscribers. Monthly subscriptions begin with the first month free. Feel free to subscribe and cancel before you are billed.
The November Impressionist and Modern Evening sales were 19.4% lower this season than a year ago. The sell-through rates were down by 10% and the hammer ratio (the measure of hammer performance against low estimates) was also substantially lower falling from 1.17 to .89 which shows the willingness of sellers to compromise and the need to accept more realistic estimates for classic art.
The average price for an evening sale lot sold in November fell 12.5% year over year. Last year it was $5.4m; this year the average lot value was $4.77m for the evening sale. Lots were fairly evenly distributed with almost half the lots failing to find buyers or selling at prices below the low estimates. Another way to look at that breakdown is to say that 52% of lots sold within or above estimates.
Finally, evidence of the top end of the market losing steam comes in the portion of the sale accounted for by the top ten lots. Last year, nearly half of the value generated in the evening sales, 47.5%, came from the top ten lots. This year, that proportion fell to 39.5%. A falling share for the top ten lots is not necessarily a bad signal for the market.
Switching to the day sales, the total was only down by just under $5m from 2017 to 2018. The average price in the day sales also only fell $5,000 from $130k to $125k. That too is a good sign. The Imp-Mod market is losing some energy at all levels but basic numbers are more stable than volatile. As in years past, market share is led by Picasso and Claude Monet. But this year both artists had slightly diminished shares of the market for Impressionist and Modern art. Sotheby’s decision to focus on other artists surely had some bearing on that. Some artists missing from this year’s market share table who led last year’s table are Vincent van Gogh (who would have been in a comparable position to last year had Christie’s been able to sell their top lot by the artist), Fernand Léger, and Marc Chagall. Alberto Giacometti and Wassily Kandinsky move up the table from 2017 to 2018. Giacometti had less than 1% market share last year and garnering almost 5% this year. Kandinsky went from 2% to 9.6%. Joan Miro and Rene Magritte held steady in the 3-4% range year over year.
Several artists like Ernst Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Ludwig Meidner and Maurice Vlaminck were absent from the list last year. Their position this year was the product of the vagaries of restitution and what estates might come to market. Tamara Lempicka also had a strong showing. Cézanne, Degas and Henry Moore held steady on the list but Jean Arp was a new name making the top half of the list this year.
This list of the top 40 Evening sale lots gives us a good sense of what’s happening the marketplace. The most competitive lots sold for premium prices in the $20m range though there was weakness above and below that level. Lots that sold above the estimate range followed no specific pattern and weakness was also more lot specific than concentrated in the work of an artist or a price band.
Interestingly, the day sales showed a very similar pattern. There is no concentration of competitive lots at the top of the day sale tables nor is there a preponderance of names that are not seen on the evening sale list.
Looking at the top 40 most competitive lots, the same array of artists, price points and styles. A table top Giacometti work once owned by Jeffrey Loria and a tiny scrap of paper 2 x 1 inches with a ballpoint sketch of a head topped the list of works that saw the most dynamic competition. Third on the list and then seven more times on the most dynamic list were studies by Tamara de Lempicka that clearly had an eager audience. Although those were four figure works bid into prices all across the five- and six-figure range. Even so, there were also a half a dozen works with estimates in the seven figures that saw strong competition suggesting that the Impressionist and Modern market is quite discriminating right now with specific works generating fierce bidding.