This detailed analysis of the November Impressionist and Modern Evening sales over the last 12 years was provided by our friends at Pi-eX. It is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscriptions begin with a free month for the curious.
The November Impressionist and Modern sales seemed to leave many disappointed. It was true that many lots struggled against seller’s expectations. But the total for the sales was among the best over the last dozen years. Looking at these charts provided by Pi-eX, you can see the that this year’s hammer totals were in the same range as those of 2014 (though remember that we’re comparing like sales and excluding some of the curated and single-owner collections.) Only 2007 and 2017 have exceeded the totals of this year.
This year was also among the sales where works over $10m accounted for the greatest proportion of the sale total but still behind 2017, 2007 and 2014.
There was also a lot of talk in the commentary after the Imp-Mod sales about the auctions missing estimate projections. But when you look at the estimates versus the hammer totals over the last 12 years it quickly becomes apparent that missing estimates is more the rule than the exception.
It is true that last year’s sales performed above the low estimate. But the only other times that happened in a dozen years was 2014 and 2009. Adding in works that had unpublished estimates boosted 2010, 2015 and 2016 into the range but remember that unpublished estimates are not included in the calculation of the overall high and low estimates.
The numbers look a little better when we view them as averages. From 2014 to 2018 the average hammer price has been slightly above the average low estimate. What’s interesting in this chart is that 2007 also saw average hammer prices lag the average low estimate. That was a boom year in the art market. So there’s good reason to assume that over-ambitious estimates are endemic to the Impressionist and Modern market, a feature of seller’s psychology more than market conditions.
Pi-eX also charts sales against the estimate expectations. The blue bars are works selling above the low estimate and the red bars are the amount of work that was bought in. Years where the red bars are small show a market where buyers are willing to meet seller’s demands or exceed them. Years where the red bars are larger reflect the seller’s unwillingness to compromise on prices. After several years where sellers did not hold fast or were not required to, the value of work that was bought in rose substantially. That value is still outweighed by the value of the work bid above the low estimates.One final chart from Pi-eX if you’re interested in the horse race between houses. The final chart shows auction results for the November sales by house with Sotheby’s resurgence over the last two seasons to a more accustomed market share.