The London March sales have provided a fascinating insight into 2017’s projected art market outcomes. The art world stood firm against predicted downturns, firmly asserting itself as a stable market with every promise of exceeding expectations in New York’s May sales. Please read below for auction details and insights into the March sales.
CHRISTIE’S IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART SALE
A solid but perhaps not so exciting evening for Christie’s as their 50-lot sale saw a 92% sell-through rate, generating a promising climate for the upcoming evening auctions. The principle story of the sale seemed to revolve around works reportedly belonging to Russian Collector Dmitry Rybolovlev; including the top lot, Paul Gauguin’s Te Fare (La Maison). The work made the highest price of the evening, reaching £18m ($22m) hammer after being chased by multiple bidders in the sale room and on the telephones, eventually going to a Chinese telephone buyer. Though claiming the top price of the evening, Rybolovlev would have taken 79% loss against what he paid for the work in 2008. According to reports in the New York media among his other works to come up that evening were Picasso’s Joueur de Flute et Femme Nue, which sold £2.5m below the low estimate at £4m ($4.9m) and Rodin’s The Kiss which failed to sell, perhaps due to its recent casting in 2010.
Other notable sales included Cézanne’s portrait of his mother, Femme Assise, which sold to the same Chinese bidder who bought Gauguin’s Te Fare. The work reached high above its estimates of £2-3m reaching £3.9m ($4.8m) hammer. A third of the works from the sale, all from the higher end of the price scale sold to Asian buyers, supporting the trend that works by established Western masters are in high demand in China and the Middle-East, where new buyers are looking to add an established prestige to their collections. Other top lots snapped up by Chinese and Japanese bidders include: Jeune Fille aux anemones by Matisse for £7.4m ($9.1m) hammer and Berthe Morisot’s Femme et Enfant au Balcon, which sold to a Japanese telephone bidder for £3.5m ($4.3m).
SOTHEBY’S IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART SALE
The Sotheby’s auction the following night promised substantial results and delivered quite spectacularly on that promise, despite their top lot failing to reach its grand estimate. With only 4 lots going unsold and a new record achieved for a work by Sisley (£6.4m hammer for Effet de Neige a Louveciennes), the combined total of the Sotheby’s Impressionist and Surrealists sales equalled $195m including Buyer’s Premium making it the highest totalling London auction in history.
The top lot of the evening was the much discussed Bauerngarten by Gustav Klimt, that had an undisclosed estimate of £45m ($55m), and reached £42.5m ($52.1m) hammer, which must have greatly pleased its third-party guarantor who had placed an irrevocable bid of £38m ($46m) on the piece. After twenty minutes of slow but determined bidding that included Jasmine Cheng bidding up to £39m, the work was eventually snapped up by Andreas Jungmann, Head of Sotheby’s Austria, who also chased the second Klimt, Mädchen im Grünen, that became a hotly contested lot, being chased by multiple telephone bidders as well as London dealer Danny Katz. Eventually the work reached £3.7m ($4.5) hammer.
A group of Picasso works all excelled on the block, unsurprisingly achieving extremely high prices: the second highest price of the evening was achieved by Plante de Tomates. After a long battle between telephone bidders the work reached its high estimate £15m ($18.4m) hammer. Femme nue Assise, the second Picasso lot was snapped up by an Asian bidder on the telephone with Patty Wong, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, who bid up to £12m ($14.7m) for the work. The third Picasso Lot, a monochrome work Femme nue Assise dans un Fauteuil sur Fond Blanc that was sold for £10.6m ($13m), the work exceeded its high estimate of £9.5m ($11.3m) and was guaranteed by a third party, perhaps the same party to guarantee the fourth Picasso work, Nu Couché et Tete d’Homme, that reached £6.9m ($8.4m), making it an extremely successful night for Picasso.
Sotheby’s had procured up to five third party guarantees for works in the sale all of whom will have felt richly rewarded for their investments as each work performed beyond their low estimates. The entire sale was an enormous success and not let down by the slow pace of the bidding in the auction room.
Overall the sale was a respectable opening auction, spelling out a restrained but reasonable bidding terrain.
CHRISTIE’S SURREALIST SALE
The excitement surrounding the Surrealist auction stemmed mainly from two major works by Magritte that were being highly promoted by Christie’s and a mysterious work by Paul Delvaux, Le Village des Sirenes. This last and the first of the Magritte’s, La Corde Sensible, (billed as the star lot of the sale), both carried third-party guarantees, ensuring their sale at a minimum price. Whoever backed the work by Delvaux would have been overjoyed with the result as the painting reached high above its estimate.
of £1.7-2.5m ($2.1-3m) reaching £2.6m ($3.2m) hammer in a frenzy of bidding both in the room and on the telephone. La Corde Sensible, on the other hand, left the block with just one bid, selling to its guarantor at £13.5m hammer, below its lofty estimates of £14-18m ($17-22m). The second Magritte, Le Domaine d’Arnheim, was returning to public auction for the first time since 1988. This was the fourth work to come to the block that evening belonging to Dmitry Rybolovlev, who reportedly purchased the painting for $43.5m in 2011. The work sold well in regards to surpassing its estimates of £6.5-8.5m ($8-10.5m) achieving £9m ($11m) hammer, but again represented a significant loss for its Russian seller.
SOTHEBY’S SURREALIST SALE
The 20 lot sale did not mirror the same success as its Impressionist and Modern counterpart, failing to surpass its low estimate even including Buyer’s Premium. This was due, in part, to the withdrawal of the top lot, Salvador Dali’s Moment de Transition, which was estimated to sell between £6-8m ($7.1-9.5m). Reasons for withdrawing the lot maybe, in part, due to its having been sold all too recently at Christie’s, New York in May 2014, when it carried a much higher estimate of $10-15m and sold below the low estimate for $9.1m. Works returning too soon to auction, especially if they’ve been known to sell badly at their last time on the block rarely find success. Three works failed to find buyers during the course of the night, however the 16 lots that did find buyers reached high prices and did not completely let the tempo of the night down. Another top lot of the evening, Magritte’s Le Repas des Noces reached £1.7m ($2.1m) hammer £500,000 above its high estimate, and Picabia’s Ino, also sold well, reaching £1m ($1.2m) hammer.
CHRISTIE’S POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY SALE
The Post-War and Contemporary sale brought a welcome upswing of energy; with several record breaking prices being paid for some of the night’s top lots including: Albert Oehlen’s Self-Portrait, reaching £2.5m ($3.03m) hammer despite selling on a single bid and Cecily Brown’s Sick Leaves rocketed past its estimates making £1.5m ($1.8m) hammer, and was snapped up by the same buyer who bought the 1961 Fontana Concetto Spaziale, Attese for £2.9m ($3.5m). Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s The Beautyful Ones, that, despite carrying an estimate of £400,000 – 600,000 ($480,000 – 730,000) had reportedly been guaranteed by a third-party for £800,000 ($970,000), the work almost tripled its guarantee reaching £2.1m ($2.5m) hammer, making it the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by Crosby, which is not surprising as the artist has only had three works at auction. The previous record was achieved in November 2016 when a large piece by Crosby sold for $1,092,500 including Buyer’s Premium.
Other notable lots included the two 1955 Calder mobiles that were bought by the Nahmad family for a combined total of £6.9m ($8.4m) hammer. The Nahmads were the biggest bidders of the night, also buying the large Dubuffet Hourloupe piece Etre et Paraitre at mid-estimate for £8.8m ($10.7m) hammer. The Nahmad gallery was responsible for snapping up Peter Doig’s early canvas Cobourg 3+1, the top lot of the evening, which sold just below the high estimate at £11.2m ($13.6m) hammer, beating underbidders Brett Gorvy and possibly Alex Brottman.
Though bidding was consistent and the sale had a 95% sell-through rate, the evening was lacking in excitement, probably because the sale was lacking a masterpiece.
SOTHEBY’S POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY SALE
The Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary auction proved the hard-wearing stability of the art market in the face of constant dooming predictions in the wake of Brexit and Trump’s election. The sale soared past its high estimate, an enormous step up on their equivalent sale last February which totalled a mere £69m ($100m) including Buyer’s Premium. The night was led by a number of masterworks that kept the bids coming in thick and fast both in the room and on the telephones. The top lot of the night was Gerhard Richter’s photo-realist icy landscape Eisberg which attracted a flurry of buyers, including three Asian telephone bidders, proffered through Patty Wong, Jasmine Chen and ultimately selling through Shu Zheng, pushing the work far above its £8-12m ($10-15m) estimate reaching £15.6m ($19m) hammer.
Only 4 lots (or 7% of the works) went unsold due in part to high quality works eliciting high results but also partly to do with up to 16 lots, or 28% of the sale carrying either house or third-party guarantees. Although many of these proved successful, particularly the Untitled work by Christopher Wool that fetched £6.2m ($7.6m) hammer, almost £4m above its guarantee of £2.9m. However, 5 of the 11 third party guarantees sold to their guarantors, meaning there may have been one or two bidders who were perhaps not so happy with the evening’s results.
In general, the evening was a great testament to the current strength of the art market, with consistently high results and plentiful bidding on a large number of the lots. The regular bids coming from Chinese and Japanese clients outstripped European and American buyers, prompting excitement as all eyes turn towards Art Basel Hong Kong next week.
*All prices in the report include Buyer’s Premium, unless otherwise specified.
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