Following the success of the June Impressionist and Modern sales in London there were always going to be huge expectations for the performance of Sotheby’s and Christie’s in the Fall 2010 sale season. The hard work and substantial cost of two vast evening sale catalogues did not go unrewarded as neither house disappointed in their ability to sell two very good sales. However, their thunder might well have been stolen by Phillip’s, which under the guiding hand of Phillipe Segalot attained the biggest result for a contemporary lot of the season in their Carte Blanche sale. This was the first time Sotheby’s or Christie’s have been bettered in such a manner.
No matter what was said before the sale season relating to the astonishingly high estimates and high lot counts, all the sales exceeded expectations. Importantly the Day Sales turned over substantial figures, which is always the best measure for the health of the market as a whole. The day sale buyers aren’t the billionaires that will always buy in any financial climate.
Of the star lots in the Impressionist and Modern Art Sales two works shone brightest: a Modigliani nude in the Sotheby’s Evening sale, Nu assis sur un divan (La Belle Romaine), which fetched almost $69m, and Henri Matisse’s vast bronze, Nu de dos, 4 état (Back IV), which sold for nearly $49m. Modigliani’s nude was a truly unique work but it had made only $17m in 1999, not a bad return on an investment in 11 years! The Matisse bronze is from an edition of 12 but one of only 2 in private hands which led to the astonishing figure that surprised most, including the Christie’s staff judging by the atmosphere in the saleroom. But there were other successes, with every sector performing well: from Monet’s unfinished Le basin aux nymphéas which found a buyer for 24m usd to Matisse’s stunning reclining nude that made almost $21m, an exceptional price considering it was not fresh to the market.
The Evening sales underlined the strength of the top of the market which most agreed are now back to 2007 levels. History indicates that those who bought the best examples, fresh to the market and of the best possible quality, will go on to recoup their costs. That underlines the importance of gathering the best possible professional advice prior to buying, especially at these levels where a wrong bid could cost a fortune.
In the Contemporary sales we saw a similar story with outstanding works making outstanding prices. Andy Warhol’s Men in her life fetched $63m at Phillip’s de Pury, the highest price of the Contemporary week by a distance. Warhol’s works from 1962 of this size and subject are increasingly rare and his prices continue to rise exponentially with each passing season. A world record price of considerable interest was fetched in the Christie’s sale with Roy Leichtenstein’s Ohhh...Alright... making almost $43m. The work was from his most iconic series: ‘Dream Girls’ which Leichtenstein completed in the early 1960s. Such an image is wonderfully commercial: an attractive subject, a great date and utterly typical of the artist’s style. Sotheby’s had some strong prices too and the consistency of their sale was first-rate with signature pieces by Warhol, Rauschenberg and Bacon all dramatically exceeding their estimates. Even works executed post-2000 were making good prices: such as Julie Mehrutu’s The Seven Acts of Mercy fetching $2.3m. In 2010 the top end contemporary market is back and it seems to be back for good.