Review: The June Impressionist & Modern Art Sales – London, 23-25th June 2014

By Oliver Shuttleworth

The art trade was delighted by the great results of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art sales this week but it was quickly brought back down to earth by the lacklustre results across Piccadilly at Christie’s King St.

If Christie’s were in need of an excuse then the horrid exchange rate of over  1.7 usd/gbp meant that  much of the sterling-estimated art was simply far too expensive - even in the heady days of mid-2014. I felt much of the property was sourced in the US to take advantage of the strong pound. There were countless daggered properties in the catalogues (the double dagger symbol in the catalogue means that a work has been imported, under temporary admission, into the EU and a 5% import charge is liable upon settlement). As soon as European clients see a dagger symbol it dampens the keenness to bid as another 5% on top of the heavy auction house premium is not a welcome thing!

The most impressive two lots were the stunning Monet Nympheas at Sotheby’s and the remarkable Schwitters, Ja – Was? - Bild at Christie’s, both in the evening sales. Monet’s market is as strong as ever with his ‘brand’ a magnet to new collectors. Monet’s selling market so international – the two main bidders were on the phone to American and Chinese members of Sotheby’s staff. The final price for Nympheas was over 32m GBP or roughly 50m USD and thus the second top price for the artist. The Schwitters was a truly great Merz (the artist’s own term for his collages) that had not been seen on the market since it was sold by Galerie Gmurzynska prior to 1981. Doubtless the price flew well beyond the 4m GBP low estimate and was hammered down for over 12m GBP – 21m USD - and a world record for the artist.

 At Sotheby’s there was a good buzz in the auction room but really from the trade rather than any major private buying – most major private buyers had done their ‘shopping’ in February and May and were all set for a long summer away from London. A great friend of our gallery was bidding in the room and was perhaps the only private buyer not represented by a gallery. The vast majority of clients at this level use consultants and advisors such as Fine Art Brokers. The other good prices were fairly easy to spot – a superb Monet of Cap d’Antibes made nearly 8m GBP, a very strong Mondrian made over 15m gbp (though it deserved more) and my favourite piece in the sale, a 1915 Emil Nolde titled Sudseeinsel, made over twice the high estimate of 1.4m GBP.

Christie’s were hindered by a more aggressively estimated sale, with less depth in quality, featuring perhaps too many artists whose work we have been inundated with over the last 3 months. Giacomettis, eight of them in all, were the centrepieces of the sale but sadly the market cannot take such a load of work, no matter how good, in one outing. The biggest casualty was the cover lot, Alberto’s Surreal signature work entitled La main, that failed to make the low estimate of 10m GBP.

There was one work that I thought would sell and went unsold: a Tanguy, lot 54, which was punchily estimated at a 1m gbp low estimate. I feel it was somewhat lost amongst the Magrittes (which did sell well for Christie’s) and would have been a great asset, it has not been bought post-sale and will feature in another sale later this year. As ever, it was a great market for works of art fresh to sale and at estimates that didn’t force the bidding. If you are considering putting together a collection get in touch with us and remember the golden rules: use an advisor, do your research and collect over a long period of time – there’s no rush!

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