The February sales of Impressionist and Modern art in London saw a decrease of one third from the previous year—the combined Evening and Day, which came to £207.5m were down 30% from the £298m total achieved in February 2019. The season’s top lots were by Magritte and Łempicka reflecting market growth around a reinvigorated demand for Surrealism and works made in the 1920s-1930s. The surge in prices for these two artists suggest that works from this period are beginning to see valuations closer to works from the Impressionist and Modern periods. Still, the Evening sale lots in 2020 had a lower average price in comparison to last year’s equivalent sale.
Continuing a trend seen in New York’s Impressionist and Modern sales last November, the Day sales of Impressionist and Modern art were much stronger than in the past with solid bidding and rising prices for lower value lots.
Across the February Evening and Day sales, only four lots were sold for prices above £10m. In last year’s February London sales, a total of seven lots sold above £10m, marking a decline in the overall combined value of the top lots. In February 2019, the top ten lots totaled £109.6m; in 2020, that figure is £96.5m. In 2019, the top ten lots in the Evening sales accounted for 59% of the Evening sales’ total; in 2020, that share rose by 3% to 62%. The strength of the sales came in their stronger sell-through rates and better hammer ratios.
February 2020 London Impressionist and Modern Evening Sales Summary
The Evening sales saw the overall price fall from £202.6m to £155.9m– a substantial drop. This decline is due in part to a shortage of lots above £10m. This difference in the number of lots indicates a scarcity in sourcing works in the lower Impressionist and Modern market. The Day sale totals of Impressionist and Modern art were down £6.2m from last year’s results all together.
In 2020, the top ten Day sale lots of Impressionist and Modern art sold for a total of £6.8m. The 2020 top ten works accounted for 18% of the sales total. In years prior that figure also ranged from 18% to 20%. As the top ten lots in the Day sales have proven to be influential, it is clear the lower overall average price of those top lots has contributed to the decrease in sales overall.
The Day sales of Impressionist and Modern art have struggled to compete with swelling interest in the contemporary market in recent years. However, the Day sale estimates were successfully set and saw solid results against high estimates. The top works of Impressionist and Modern art remain the most valuable as they yield the highest potential for price appreciation over long holding periods. One reason for the ripening interest in Surrealism is that stylistically these works feel more contemporary than the staple Impressionist pieces of Monet and Signac usually starring in the Evening sales. As the artistic period of late modernism ages, masterpiece-level surrealist works once in the Modernist margins have finally attracted commercial attention.
February 2020 London Impressionist and Modern Day Sales Summary
The final indicator of a healthier Impressionist and Modern art market is the hammer ratio for both sales. In February 2020, both the Evening and Day sales saw higher hammer ratios (the hammer price divided by the aggregate low estimate). The hammer ratios were 1.00 for the Day sales and 1.15 for the Evening sales.
In 2019, those ratios were 1.00 and .89. The reason for the greater hammer ratios in the Evening sales this season is due mainly to the higher sell-through rate, which was 85%, compared to last year’s 79.6%. The sales estimates were also more feasible. The Day sale hammer ratio remained the same between seasons.
February 2020 London Impressionist and Modern Day and Evening Sales Market Share
The market share figures show the top lot artist, Rene Magritte, in the lead. Magritte ranked third last year. This reflects solid growth in the artist’s market. His Le Principe du Plaisir (1937) set a record at Sotheby’s in 2018 selling for $26.8m. The event established his work at the masterpiece level.
Picasso’s share was the second highest with an increase of £4m in sales from last year. Tamara de Łempicka’s share of the value of these sales made the top tier as well, slightly above Camille Pissarro’s market share of 8.3%, an unexpected show of market strength for an Art Deco painter. Łempicka reached $18.6m in November 2019 and nearly doubled her market share to almost 4% in the New York sales from 2018. George Grosz saw a market share of 5.2%, reflecting a new auction record for an artist rarely slated for Evening sales. Giacometti doubled in sales results from last year and saw an increased in share of 4.3%. The works of Max Ernst and Salvador Dali have also seen a slight rise, edging closer to the top ten echelon of market share.
February 2020 London Impressionist and Modern Top Evening Sale Lots
Among the list of top works in the Evening sale, the lot performance against the high estimate was evenly distributed. The middle value range of works between £1-2m. proved to be the most challenging bracket. Some works by Leger, Chagall and Picabia, which have historically strong auction records failed to reach their low estimates. Several works initially priced between the £2m and £4m range attracted solid bidding. Other works priced at £5m or above also attracted bids with several outperforming their high estimates. Only works by Picasso in this range struggled to exceed expectations.
February 2020 London Impressionist and Modern Top Day Sale Lots
In the Day sale auctions selling prices were more in line with estimates at the top sector. Only one work in the top ten lots failed to reach its high estimate, reflecting a well-priced and competitive top range of works. The Hayden, Monet and Chagall from the Day sales were among the top priced lots, each selling well above their low estimates. Works by Renoir fell short of their low estimates, again suggesting that tastes may be shifting away from Impressionism. The success of works by French-Russian Cubist/Art Deco sculptor Ossip Zadkine also suggests interest is moving towards later modernists. The selling prices for the top Day sale lots were consistently strong and indicate the lower market for Impressionist and Modern works is stable.
That brings us to the final chart of works that received the most dynamic bidding and attention. Most notably, with the exception of the Franz Marc, none of the other works were priced in the seven figures. Most were works were by minor artists slated with fairly low initial estimates.
February 2020 London Impressionist and Modern Day and Evening Sales Most Dynamic Lots