(English) New York November 2019 Sales Highlights and Summary 


Impressionist & Modern and Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sales 

Please note that prices listed in the summary above do not include the buyer’s premium


Christie’s Impressionist Sale

Christie’s Impressionist Evening Sale totalled $162m ($191.9m with premium) against a pre-sale estimate of $148.3 – 219.2m. 52 of the 58 works on offer found buyers (3 were withdrawn), reaching a solid 90% sell through rate. Whilst the media has widely touted this total as down 31% from last year, it is important to note that although volume was down, prices remained strong. Last year’s auctions were significantly boosted by several estates including the famous Rockefeller sale, which raised their presale totals to $305m. The robust sell through rates across all the auctions point to a resilient and stable market, with the houses struggling to win material and content for their sales as opposed to a shrinking market.

The top two lots of the evening included René Magritte’s Le seize septembre (1957), depicting a crescent moon shining through a single tree, and estimated at $7-10m. Consigned from the collection of Chicago philanthropists James and Marilynn Alsdorf, the painting is one of only 19 that Magritte completed at this size or larger, with only four of them still in private hands. The piece sold for $19.6 million to Marc Porter on the phone.

The other star lot was one of Umberto Boccioni’s most iconic compositions, Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique forms of continuity in space), which he originally conceived in 1913. Interestingly, this work was cast posthumously in 1972 by process of surmoulage from a bronze cast, instead of the original plaster. However, such historical debates did nothing to temper the bidding for this object, which sold for a record $16.2m including fees, to Harry Smith of Gurr Johns, against an estimate of $3.8 – 4.5m.

Several other significant lots hammered below or at the low estimate but still managed to sell, demonstrating the hard work Christie’s had put into garnering buyers for the sale. Most notable of these was the sale’s cover lot, Picasso’s Femme dans un fauteuil (Françoise) (1949), which hammered below its $12m estimate at $11.5 million, to a phone bidder liaised by Jussi Pylkkänen. Another Picasso, this time a “mosquetaire” painting entitled Buste d’homme (1968), was estimated at $9-12m yet hammered at $8m. With little bidding competition for some of these lots, it was the prime occasion for dealers to add to their stock; indeed, the Nahmad family acquired at least four lots during this sale.

Whilst this was not a white glove sale, Christie’s produced solid results within their pre-sale estimates against a tricky backdrop of the media reporting a subdued market, thereby demonstrating a steady buoyancy.


Sotheby’s Impressionist Sale

Sotheby’s Impressionist Evening Sale totalled $179m ($209 with premium) against a presale estimate of $178.8 – 254.5m. 8 of the 50 lots went unsold (two were withdrawn from the sale), which led to 84% of works being sold. Several of the higher estimated lots had their reserves significantly lowered to help ensure a sound sell through rate. Picasso’s Nus, for example, hammered at $8.8m despite its low estimate of $12m.

Strongest bidding appeared to manifest amongst more mid-tier lots, however, one clear highlight was Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge (1903). Having been in the collection of Holocaust survivor Andrea Klepetar-Fallek since 1977, this painting was the top lot of the night by value; estimated at $20-30m, it successfully hammered at $24m ($27.6 with premium).

Another noteworthy lot late in the sale was Tamara de Lempicka’s La Tunique Rose (1927), which sparked a two-way bidding war between two Sotheby’s specialists bidding for clients on the phone. The work hammered down at $11.3m ($13.3m with premium), selling to Moscow based specialist Irina Stepanova’s client on the phone. This established a new auction record for the artist, which was set one year ago at Christie’s New York when La Musicienne (1929) sold for just over $9m with premium.

The sale was populated with several works by Giacometti with varying results, the most successful being Buste d’Homme (Diego au Blouson), which was conceived around 1953 and cast the same year. Based on the sculptor’s younger brother, Diego, the piece was sold for $14.3 million with premium, significantly surpassing its estimate of $6 – 8m. Auctioneer Oliver Barker oversaw a protracted bidding war between Brooke Lampley and specialist Nick Deimel from around $9m to the hammer price of $12.3m, before it finally sold to Deimel’s client.

Amongst the buyers, Nancy Whyte was noted as the successful bidder for Magritte’s La Légende des siecles (1950) for a hammer price of $7.3m ($8.6m with premium) against competition from Sotheby’s specialists Gregoire Billault and Samuel Valette, bidding for their respective clients.


Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s


Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s


Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale

Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale totalled $279.9m hammer ($325.3m with premium) against a presale estimate of $270.3-397.8m. The auction house achieved an 89% sell through rate, however 23 sold lots hammered beneath their low estimate, equating to almost 43% of the works offered, and thereby emphasising the increasingly necessary hard work by the auction house in order to sell to ever more discerning buyers.

The headline of the evening was undoubtedly the new auction record for Ed Ruscha’s Hurting the Word Radio #2 (1964) which sold above estimate for $52.5 million with premium. The second top lot, Hockney’s Sur la terrasse (1971), estimated at $25-45m, fared less well in comparison to its estimate yet still achieved a full price, hammering at $25.75m ($29.5m with premium) to a client of Alex Rotter’s on the phone.

Buyers included Clore Wyndam who acquired a Robert Ryman for $4.8m hammer ($5.7m with premium); Luxembourg and Dayan, who purchased Joan Mitchell’s Plowed Field for a within-estimate $13.3m with premium; New Hauser and Wirth director Koji Inoue was seen advising the successful bidder who acquired Dana Schutz’s painting Shooting in the Air (2016) for just under $1.1m with premium; and Lévy Gorvy outbid the Mugrabi’s to acquire Warhol’s portrait of Muhammad Ali for an above-estimate $10m with premium. The Mugrabis were then successful buyers of the largescale Condo for $2.9m hammer ($3.5m with premium). Lastly, Beaumont Nathan art advisors were the successful bidders for an untitled Franz Kline canvas for $3.4m with premium.

As with the Impressionist Sales earlier in the week, many lots sold below or around the low estimate or on a single bid. This included the records set for evening sale debut artists Alma Thomas and Charles White. Yet 89% of lots sold after the reserves were adjusted which suggests a disconnect between the high expectations of sellers and discerning eye of collectors to have ever more access to a globalised art market.


Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Sale

Phillips Evening sale of 20th Century and Contemporary Art totalled $90.2m ($108m with premium) against a presale estimate of $93 – 132m. With 40 of the 42 lots offered finding buyers, the auction boasted a successful sell through rate.

As is typical of Phillip’s sale structure, the evening began with a young contemporary artist as the first lot: Julie Curtiss’s Party Down (2016) was estimated at $30,000 to $50,000, but it rapidly leapt past that sum to hammer at $320,000 ($400,000 with premium).

There were several examples of works selling towards the low end of their estimate as was common throughout the sales this week. Just one night after Christie’s set a new record for Ed Ruscha; his more recent 2015 painting Start Over Please, sold for $3.5m hammer ($4.2m with premium) against an estimate of $3.5-4.5m. Philip Guston’s Smoking II (1973) also hammered toward the low estimate at $6.5m (estimate $6-8m); nevertheless it was the second highest price of the evening. Most disappointing however, was the Joan Miró painting, Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux (1952), which had not been shown in over six decades, but lacklustre bidding saw the work sell for $4.5m – well below the low $7m estimate.

Stronger results were seen with the highest priced lot of the evening, where Basquiat’s The Ring (1981) was sold for $15m with premium to Guggenheim Asher in the room, against an estimate of $10-15m. Having already sold at auction in 2012 and touted for private sale in recent years at a Christie’s private selling exhibition, its market exposure did nothing to dampen demand for this work, demonstrating the strength of the painting and the current Basquiat market. Another notable buyer spotted was Thaddaeus Ropac, who acquired James Rosenquist’s Highway Temple (1979) for $600,000 (hammer), an estate represented by his gallery.

Lively bidding was seen for Norman Rockwell’s Before the Shot (1958) an unusual appearance in a Post-War and Contemporary evening sale. The painting was estimated at $2.5-4.5m and at least four specialists chased it for respective clients on the phone before finally selling to chairman Cheyenne Westphal’s phone bidder for $3.9m ($4.7m with premium).

Amid recent market hype over Yoshitomo Nara and KAWS, works by these artists offered in the sale attracted solid but not frenzied bidding, suggesting a possible ease in the recent speculative buying for these artists.

Overall the sale saw a robust sell through rate of 95% by lot. This came off the back of the auction house’s highest day sale total ever of $40m, which was just $14m two years ago, therefore demonstrating the strength of Phillips as the auction house continues to grow.


Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale totalled $230m hammer ($270.7m with premium) against a presale estimate of $205.7 – 288.3m with a strong sell through rate of 92%.

The auction began with a work on paper by Charles White, Ye Shall Inherit the Earth (1953), which set an artist record, interestingly beating a painting by the same artist that sold the previous night at Christie’s. It went for $1.8m with premium to Lisa Dennison, after a three-way bidding war. Another record was set for Norman Lewis, Ritual (1962) which hammered for $2.3m ($2.8m premium), well above the late American painter’s previous record of $956,000. Both of these results demonstrated that the demand for African American artists remains high.

There was strong bidding amongst the Asian specialists on the phone throughout the evening. They found buyers from the region for Rothko’s Blue Over Red (1953) at $23m hammer and Wayne Thiebaud’s Encased Cakes (2010–11), which set a new record for the artist with a price of $8.5m. Most noteworthy was that two of the top three lots of evening sale went to one Asian buyer, who spent a total of $54.4m with Sotheby’s specialist Yuki Terase, accounting for 20% of the sale total. The first acquisition was Clyfford Still’s PH-399 (1946) for $24.3m with premium, selling for well above the high estimate of $18m. This work was the subject of a 15-minute bidding war between Yuki and Grégoire Billault before it found its eventual buyer. The second purchase was Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXII (1977), for $30.1 million with fees, which sold more comfortably within its estimate of $25-35m. The buyer was rumoured as Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa, who famously bid for the $110.5m Basquiat auction record; however, this remains unsupported and could well have been another client of Terase’s.

The house-guaranteed group of works from the collection of Marc Jacobs performed less well. There were no bids for Ed Ruscha’s She Gets Angry At Him (1974), with an original estimate of $2-3m. Another Ruscha, Broken Glass (1968), also received no bids; however, it was re-offered at the end of the sale, and sold on a single bid of $1.4m with premium.

Dealer purchasing remained key, with Zwirner acquiring works by Calder and Robert Gober. Jonathan Boos purchased a painting by John Currin, Stavros Merjos bought the Kerry James Marshall and the Nahmad family snapped up Francis Bacon’s Pope (1958), which was consigned by the Brooklyn Museum.

Despite no dramatic results or headlines, the contemporary team of this recently privatised auction house pulled off a strong sale with an excellent sell through rate and strong Asian bidding at high levels.



Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips


Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips


Overall across all sales throughout the week, much has been made of lower sales totals and the possibility of a shrinking market. Yet sales totals can be a misleading barometer for art market health. Whilst an approximate average of 35% of lots hammered for below their low estimate across all sales, this isn’t a huge departure from previous sales. The defining characteristic from this percentage is that high expectations coming from sellers has resulted in high estimates, which buyers did not want to meet. Moreover, the art market continues to show strength in the middle range. A greater number of buyers are competing over a greater number of lots at a lower price level. Last year, the November day sales of Contemporary art totalled $218m. That was considered quite strong and a testament to the vibrancy of the market. This November, Christie’s and Phillips had record day sale totals. Overall the total across Sotheby’s, Phillips, Christie’s and Bonhams in Contemporary art day sales was $263m – almost a 21% rise from last year. Ultimately this demonstrates increased participation and the spreading of value over a greater number of lots.

Author: Charlie Wood, Art Associate


Cover Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

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