The Fine Art Group’s rebranding launch has coincided with a very exciting season in the art world; between fairs and auctions, June has seen the art world in a hive of activity, with generally positive and encouraging outcomes.
The art world converged on a rainy Basel, Switzerland, which was a resounding triumph; one of the art fair’s most successful since its inception according to the Art Basel website. The mood at the fair was optimistic with most dealers reporting good business. The Fine Art Group advised individual clients throughout the fair, who acquired works ranging from $100,000 to over $3m.
EVENING SALES RESULTS
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN
Helena Newman took the gavel for the Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale as the first female auctioneer to lead an evening sale at Sotheby’s in 26 years. The evening’s two star lots, Modigliani’s portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne (au Foulard) and Picasso’s Femme Assise received record breaking bids, reaching the highest prices seen at a London auction since 2011, the first selling for £34.25m hammer, the latter for £38.5m hammer. Neither of the works had been on the market for 30 years and the enthusiasm they engendered in the auction room was followed up by a further 9 out of 27 lots selling above high-estimate.
The sale totalled £90.7m hammer, well within its presale estimate of £81-105m. The only real disappointment on the night was a posthumous cast of Rodin’s Eve estimated between £8-12m, which failed to find a buyer. This came as a surprise after Rodin’s Eternal Spring was the one star lot in Sotheby’s May sale in New York – perhaps a victim of the sometimes bias shown against posthumous casts.
Though the sale featured only half as many lots as its counterpart from the previous year, the auction displayed a commitment to quality before quantity leading to a high calibre of works attaining excellent and appropriate prices.
Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sale, sadly, did not yield such successful results. The evening was struck with early disaster as 3 of its 36 lots were withdrawn, followed by 12 out of the 33 remaining lots going unsold. The predictions had remained modest with a pre-sale estimate of £38.6-56.6m, but the end result only totalled £25.6m hammer. This conservative result may be due to the auction house channelling most of its high energy into the much anticipated Defining British Art sale. However, some measure of success was achieved by a rival Modigliani portrait that sold above the high estimate at £7.3m hammer.
Other pieces to find buyers included a record breaking Kirchner work on paper selling at £1.1m hammer, as well as a new record for Bernard Buffet, whose work Les Clowns Musiciens, le Saxophonist, was bought by a phone bidder for £1m. The immediate contrast to Sotheby’s success from the previous night may have diminished Christie’s performance, but nonetheless, in monetary terms, it was the lowest earning Impressionist and Modern art sale Christie’s had seen in 20 years, leaving the auction house to pin their hopes on the Defining British Art sale.
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY
Phillip’s 20th Century and Contemporary sale was the first contemporary sale of the season and though the evening began with a hush of hesitance, it was swiftly broken when the top lot of the evening, Anselm Kiefer’s Für Velimir Khlebnikov: Die Lehre vom Krieg: Seesch sold far above its pre-sale estimate of £400-600,000 and reached £2m hammer, creating a new record for the artist at auction.
Sotheby’s Post War and Contemporary evening auction was host to much excitement, and saw their 46 lot sale achieve an 87% sale rate by lot with 40 of their lots finding buyers. Of these, 26 sold at hammer prices within or above the estimates and the total result landed on a healthy £43.9m hammer. Though one of the top lots of the evening, Sigmar Polke’s enormous fabric painting Red Fish sold below estimate to an Asian telephone bidder for £3.1m, many other works far surpassed expectation. Jenny Saville’s Shift, a painting that had once featured in Charles Saatchi’s iconic exhibition “Sensation” in 1997, depicting women’s bodies lying side-by-side like tinned sardines, fetched a new record for the artist at auction at £5.9m hammer. The piece was hotly contested between both phone and room bidders, including Larry Gagosian who eventually conceded the piece to Chinese Collector Wang Wei who purchased the work for the Long Museum in Shanghai, where it will be featured in an exhibition devoted to Western female artists. Shift will hang alongside Modigliani’s reclining nude, bought last November for upward of £160m. Keith Haring’s The Last Rainforest, also broke records that evening. The piece, which once belonged to photographer David LaChapelle, sold for £3.6m hammer.
Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary evening sale made a demonstrable come back, despite an uneasy start when it was announced that the star lot, an Abstaktes Bild by Richter was pulled from the sale, reducing the pre-sale estimate by £14m. The auction total landed above estimate at £39.6m with a sell-through rate of 92% by lot and 98% by value.
Two works by Basquiat, belonging to Johnny Depp, roused great interest from bidders both on the phone and in the room. The first Basquiat, an early self-portrait, attracted more than 10 bidders and was eventually acquired by Bill Acquavella. A similar scenario played out for the second Basquiat, Pork, which reached the highest price of the evening at £4.1m hammer, as Elaine Holt from Christie’s Hong Kong bid on behalf of an Asian buyer.
A remarkable spending spree was noted as one bidder bought four works, including the stunning Yves Klein blue sponge sculpture, and paid above high estimate for Sigmar Polke’s fantastic Flucht (Blau) at £2.2m hammer and Manolo Millares Untitled (composition) no. 4 at £700,000.
Despite the sale having the lowest estimate for a contemporary auction at Christie’s since 2009, this was a highly successful evening leaving a confident and excited stir in the air for the eagerly anticipated Defining British Art sale.
The Defining British Art sale did not disappoint, and contributed richly to Christie’s success with themed sales. Elaine Holt returned for a further spree, joining a strong bidding contest for Auerbach’s Head of Leon Kossof, which she successfully purchased at £2.3m hammer, raising the piece far beyond its high estimate of £1.8m.
A pattern she repeated for Bridget Riley’s Untitled (Diagonal Curve), an entrancing and iconic OpArt piece, which Holt bought for £3.8m hammer, a record price for a work by Riley, selling beyond its high-estimate of £3.5m. Along with her purchase of Basquiat’s Pork the previous night, Holt spent £7.6m on behalf of her clients.
The success of the sale was reflected in its 87.1% sell through rate by lot, as well as in the range and quality of the British art on offer. The leading work of the evening was without a doubt Henry Moore’s bronze Reclining Figure: Festival; carrying an estimate of £15-20m, the piece reached £22m hammer. The same buyer also acquired the second highest lot of the night, Francis Bacon’s Version No.2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe that sold on estimate at £20m. The same painting was last sold in 2006 at Sotheby’s New York for $15.02m (£8.04m) meaning the owner turned a good profit at last week’s sale.
The sale represented a huge success and resilience in the uncertainty of today’s economy; curated and themed sales have been a real trump card for Christie’s.
This exciting auction period defied expectations of a market dip after the uncertainties cause by the EU referendum and saw large numbers of global bidders purchasing multiple lots. The London sales have succeeded in reaffirming the city as an art epicentre and have demonstrated that a passion for collecting and investing in art is still attractive, although it may be too soon to tell, vis-à-vis Brexit, what the long-term effects will be on the art market.
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