$2 billion worth of art was sold during the New York May 2019 sales across 10 sales of Impressionist, Modern, and Contemporary art at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, which is up $100 million from last year’s May 2018 sales totals, showing signs of a healthy and strong market.


Both sales turned in “very solid results,” says Guy Jennings, an Impressionist and Modern specialist with The Fine Art Group…there’s “a lot of money chasing this kind of material,” Jennings says. “It’s a good market.”

– Barron’s Newspaper


Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale totalled $343.4m ($399m with premium) which sat comfortably within the presale estimate of $287.5m – $401.8m. Of the 63 lots offered, 54, or 86 percent, were sold.

The top lot of the sale was a still life by Cézanne, Bouilloire et fruits (1888–90) from the collection of Si Newhouse. Estimated in the region of $40m with feverish bidding, the work was eventually won by Rebecca Wei, president of Christie’s Asia, selling for $52m (hammer), having been purchased by the owner in 1999 for $29.4m.

Five blue-chip pieces from the Newhouse estate accounted for $100.1m, more than a quarter of the sale total. Another of the star lots from this selection included Van Gogh’s Arbres dans le jardin de l’asile, painted in Saint Rémy in 1889, which was estimated in the region of $25m. With at least five bidders on the work, it eventually sold for $33m (hammer). It was announced before the sale that both the Cézanne and the Van Gogh had new third-party guarantees in place.

New auction records were set for works by Balthus and Pierre Bonnard. The former selling for $19m (hammer) which more than doubled the previous record of $9.9m set at Christie’s New York in November 2015. Pierre Bonnard’s La Terrasse ou Une terrasse à Grasse (1912), from the Drue Heinz collection, solicited significant demand with bidding opening at $3.8m before hammering down at $16m. The previous auction record for a Bonnard was $11.6m at Christie’s London in February 2011.


Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale totalled $301.6m ($349.9m with premium) against a pre-sale estimate of $252.6m – 353.2m. Fifty-one of the 56 works consigned to the sale found buyers, securing an impressive 91 percent sell-through rate. Despite some striking individual results nearly half the lots in the auction hammered beneath their low estimates highlighting some volatility in the Impressionist & Modern market.

Amongst the bought in lots was La Juenesse de Bacchus by French Academic painter William Bouguereau, an unusual inclusion in an Impressionist & Modern evening sale, and accordingly failed to find a buyer against its estimate of $25 – 35m.

The top lot of the evening, and the week, was Monet’s Meules (1890) selling for 44 times its 1986 price at $107.6m (hammer), the most expensive Impressionist work to ever sell at auction. Another key lot was Pablo Picasso’s 1962 canvas Femme au chien, offered by a Japanese collector and held for the last 29 years, the painting sold for $48m (hammer) against an estimate of $25 – 30m, with no guarantee.

Whilst Sotheby’s sale total was lower than Christie’s, the sale did outperform last year’s May sales total of $299.5m ($318m with premium). Significantly less lots were offered with guarantees indicating confidence in the market, however this shift attests to the varying prices with several lots selling beneath their low estimates.



Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale totalled $468m ($538.9m with premium) against a presale estimate of $422.3 – 605.2m. Of the 56 total lots offered, 51 of them, or 91 percent, sold. The private collection of Robert and Beatrice Mayer achieved $157m, while works belonging to the late publishing magnate S.I. Newhouse accounted for $115m of the sale total, indicating the continued importance of estates in propelling strong sales totals.

The breakaway lot was Robert Rauschenberg‘s seminal silkscreen painting Buffalo II (1964), which after heated bidding sold to Sara Friedlander’s client for $78m hammer ($88.5m with premium) against an estimate of $50m, momentously surpassing the artist’s previous auction record of $18m. Other trophy lots included Jeff Koons’ stainless steel Rabbit (1986), estimated at $50-70m. Chased by 6 bidders, the work eventually sold to dealer Robert Mnuchin for $80m ($91m with premium) which exceeded the former Koons record of $58.4m and returned him to his post as the most expensive living artist, which he briefly lost to Hockney last year. Reportedly the end buyer was mega collector Steve Cohen.

“I think there was always going to be one which didn’t garner the same level of interest, and the Warhol just couldn’t hold up to the Rauschenberg and Koons,” Long says.

-Morgan Long, Senior Director: Barron’s Newspaper 

The Warhol market proved soft with Double Elvis, whose $48m hammer price was below the estimate of $50 – 70m, with scant bidding, likely selling to the guarantor. Similarly, Early Colored Liz (1962) sold to Gagosian for $16.8m hammer against an estimate of $20 – 30m, demonstrating lack of demand at the top end of the market. Meanwhile Louise Bourgeois‘s Spider (conceived in 1996, cast in 1997), estimated at $25 – 35m, sold to Xin Li for an auction record price of $28m ($32m with premium). Other records included Larry Rivers ($1.2m), Frank Stella ($28m), Daniel Buren ($2.1m), and Jonas Wood ($4.9m).


Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale totalled $85.3m ($99.9m with premium) against a presale estimate of $75.9 – 107.8m, with only one of the 43 lots failing to sell.

The top lot of the evening was Willem de Kooning’s, Untitled XVI (1976), which hammered at $8.8m ($10.3m with premium), towards the low end of the estimate. However, it was the younger contemporary artists whose work really soared throughout the evening. Examples include Dana Schutz’s painting Signing which sold for nearly quadruple its low estimate at $980,000. Swiss artist Nicolas Party’s landscape sold for $608,000 against an estimate of $100,000 – $150,000 and Jordan Casteel’s Self Portrait sold for $237,500 from an estimate of just $60,000 – 80,000.

From the 15 works offered from the Fiterman collection, one of the most valuable consignments Phillips has secured in its history, three sold above estimate but overall the group performed solidly within expectations. The collection’s top lot was Horse and Rider (1976) by Roy Lichtenstein, selling for just below the $6m low estimate with fees.

Over half the works in the sale were guaranteed, including Helter Skelter II (2007) by Mark Bradford which sold to the guarantor for $7.7m (hammer). The abstract collage is the companion piece to Helter Skelter I, which John McEnroe sold at Phillips last year for $12m, bought by The Broad collection it currently stands as the record for the artist.


Sotheby’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale totalled $291.6m ($342m with premium) against a presale estimate of $244.6 – 351.4m. 56 of the 63 lots sold, with an 89 percent sell through rate.

With 79 percent of lots selling for above or within their estimates, the auction included records for seven artists, ranging from established artists Carl Andre, Lee Krasner, and Kenneth Noland to contemporary figures including Charles Gaines, Barkley L. Hendricks, Rashid Johnson, and Dana Schutz. The Schutz notably soared through its estimate of $300,000 – 400,000 hammering at $2m ($2.4m with premium). This record was swiftly increased from $980,000 when Phillips sold her Signing (2009) just 90 minutes earlier.

Francis Bacon’s Study for a Head (1952) was the sale’s top lot. From the collection of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, the work sold for well above its $30m high estimate to make $44m ($50.4m with premium) to dealer Chris Ekyn who was bidding from the floor. Less dramatic was the sale of SFMOMA’s Rothko which sold neatly within its estimate for $43.8m ($50.1m with premium) to a client of Amy Cappellazzo.


The highest price paid for a single artwork across all collecting categories in New York this sales cycle, was the $110.7m (incl. premium) Monet Meules painting sold by Sotheby’s, however overall Christie’s sales totals trumped Sotheby’s & Phillips across both categories.

The Impressionist & Modern Sales were down from the May 2018 sales however this was due to the Rockefeller single owner sale. Compared to November 2018 totals were up 24.3% with strong demand for top lots with estimates over $10m. Sales values in the Post-War & Contemporary category were up 7.6% from May 2018 sales.

Despite multi-million dollar records being set at the top end for Jeff Koons and Robert Rauschenberg, younger generation artists saw the most significant price jumps. Amongst the lots that received the most competitive bidding were works by Dana Schutz, KAWS, Nicholas Party, Jonas Wood, Rashid Johnson, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Jordan Casteel. In total these artists raised $22.9 million against a pre-sale mid-estimate of $11.6 million (based on 14 lots). The next several sale cycles will attest to the sustainability of this market attention and speculation and these artists will be closely watched.


Please note that prices listed in the summary above refer to hammer prices and do not include auction fees.