By Oliver Shuttleworth
Impressionist & Modern Art Sales
This Spring saw a somewhat mixed-quality collection of paintings and sculpture put together by Christie’s and Sotheby’s. With no major collection up for grabs, the Evening sales provided no grand centrepiece as Sotheby’s did in February with their ‘Looking closely’ sale. As such neither sale really soared. To attract the best possible pictures these days without offering guarantees the houses have to offer enormous estimates to attract consignments. The biggest consignments were Les Peupliers by Claude Monet at Christie’s for $20-30m (sold for $22.5m including premium), and a mid-career Picasso Femmes Lisant at $25-35m (sold for $19m including premium). Both works were stunning, rare and fresh to the market yet neither inspired the buying audience and both just about scraped through at, and below, their pre-sale estimates. In the case of the Sotheby’s sale their true wonder was the Jawlensky – the best picture by the artist that I have seen at auction in over 10 years in the business. He can be considered the equal of any of the Fauves and Jawlensky’s top-rate work will now come on the market more given the sale of Frau mit Grunen fachem at $10m hammer price ($11.3m including premium). At Christie’s, their star was another colourful and fashionable work – the stunning Fauve work by Maurice de Vlaminck entitled Paysage de Banlieue at a presale estimate of $18-25m (sold for $22.5m including premium). Works of this type will hopefully be seen more often following the sale of the seminal André Derain Arbres à Collioure (sold for $22.4m including premium) at Sotheby’s last June which broke the $20m barrier for a Fauve work for the first time.
Overall we learnt a lot from the May sales – foremost that the art market is still very strong and buyers will chase quality even if reserves are ambitiously high. A dearth of real quality meant that the 6 or 7 highlights made spectacular prices. A couple of years ago the houses would have been delighted with sales figures of 50% what they made last week. When works such as the Delvaux, Les Cariatides, make over $9m including premium and are chased by two Russian clients to well over its top estimate we know that there is plenty of money out there waiting to be spent.
The Day sales also would have benefitted from a strong group collection to carry them. Results were very mixed and both houses relied heavily on the odd good piece to perform for the overall sale figures. Christie’s was the stronger sale and had more of a Post-Impressionist slant compared to Sotheby’s whose top lots were a lovely pair of Giacometti sculptures which fetched $960,000 including premium and a wonderful Valmier, Jeune fille assise, which made $540,000. Valmier is an artist to watch - the second tier group of post-cubists will start to perform as the Post-Impressionists such as Martin and Le Sidaner did a few years ago. Christie’s gem was a Sisley that made almost $800,000 including premium. Le Sidaner featured strongly with two table scenes in the Day sale series – an unusual occurrence that didn’t water down the interest as both sold well.
Contemporary Art Sales
With an astonishing sale from a variation of consignors and no fixed collection of note Christie’s saw a total of $301m sold this spring in the Contemporary art evening sale. This was double the amount of Sotheby’s two evening sales, one including the collection of the great contemporary collector Allan Stone, whose works of art were by far the most interesting pieces on offer over the Contemporary sale season. Phillip’s were also rallying to sell a number of big ticket pieces but their great success was selling a Warhol Liz for over $26m.
Overall, the market proved it would put up with the massive estimates the houses were giving to most of the top end works. Warhol’s prices are no longer shocking to buyers and so it was of little surprise that his Liz made such a price at Phillip’s and that Sotheby’s sold the Sixteen Jackies for over $20m including premium. Warhol is a phenomenon because he is so easily recognised and his works are both great decoration and vital works of art, with a clear and understandable message. In comparing his work to say, Tom Wesselman (too pretty) and Anselm Keifer (too challenging), it is clear that no other artist in the near future will come close to his consistently enormous prices, sale after sale.
At Sotheby’s, on the lesser scale, notable works that sold well included Dubuffet’s Portrait de Edith Boissonnas from the collection of Dodie Rosenkrans which made $1,142,500 from an estimate of only $600,000-800,000. Such a result indicates that there is a depth in the market for good quality, established names. The lack of interest in Wesselman’s Sexy Bedroom Painting no. 44 was a bit of a surprise as I thought it was a tremendous example of this post-pop artist’s work – great fun and typical of his work but possibly a little too hard to hang for some conservative far-eastern buyers. It made well below estimate but sold for $1.3m.
At Christie’s the big prices were everywhere as a stunning Rothko sold for over $30m, another Warhol Self-Portrait fetched over $27m and a Bacon Triptich, Three Studies for Self-Portrait, made over $25m. Looking down the sale results very few pictures actually made less than $1m which is becoming the norm at these Evening Sales. Interestingly, Christie’s offered 12 pictures with irrevocable bids. That means that Christie’s are guaranteed to sell to a buyer albeit with said buyer having a financial interest in the transaction if it sells beyond the reserve to another party. This is a convoluted deal structure that shows Christie’s caution in offering works of the highest quality at the highest estimates.
The Market is great for sellers at the moment in this field as they can expect good prices. For buyers the competition will be fierce but with the right advisors and the best possible preparation good deals can be done – even at auction!