The London summer auctions are underway, after Christie’s opening sale this evening at its King Street location, a steady if somewhat relaxed sale that seemed a markedly subdued affair compared to the fireworks the auction house saw last month in New York. Capping the 52-lot sale with a final tally of £71,461,000, the evening was still a strong entry in the auction house’s recent outings. Despite lackluster bidding, the sale achieved a remarkably strong sell-through rate, with only 8 works going unsold. The auction house seemed content to let a number of works go just below estimate, continuing a commitment to a sales-first strategy outgoing president Steven Murphy had outlined late last year.
The evening began with a strikingly clean Pablo Picasso still-life from 1944, a jagged white and blue work that saw moderate interest, and finished with a price of £362,500 , just beating its high estimate. It was followed shortly by an Egon Schiele charcoal, which also beat estimate for the final price of £662,500. Two lots later, a Rene Magritte was the first to break the £1 million mark, finishing at a strong £1,202,500 tally, above estimate. Two lots later, a Paul Cézanne watercolor was another strong early sale, bringing a final price of £1,650,500, followed by another Magritte selling just above estimate at £1,986,500. It was joined by an Alfred Sisley canvas, which brought a final price of £2,210,500, and a Pissarro canvas that settled within estimate for £1,762,500.
Marc Chagall, Bouquet près de la Fenêtre (1959-60), via Christie’s
The first major contest of the evening came at Lot 12 with the Claude Monet cover lot, a slender depiction of Irises that saw tepid initial interest, but managed to climb slowly with some help from auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen, creeping up to finish just above estimate at £10,834,500. Two lots later, a Vincent Van Gogh work, The Windmill saw tepid bidding, finishing with estimate at £2,322,500.
Pablo Picasso, Tête (1969), via Christie’s
The auction went methodically throughout the course of the evening, with works rarely beating estimate, or just topping out over the high price. An Edgar Degas sold within estimate for £2,882,500, followed by a Marc Chagall which also settled within estimate for £3,218,500. Another high-rated lot followed two lots later with Picasso’s Tête, a flush yellow composition that saw almost no interest, managing to sell below estimate at £4,450,500 on a twilight bid. The next lot, a Kees van Dongen portrait, performed similarly, squeaking up above the low estimate for a £4,114,500 final. Several lots later, a Paul Signac just topped its £3 million high, finishing at £3,666,500. Several lots later, a Salvador Dalí work was one of the few heavily contested works of the evening, selling for £2,882,500, joined shortly after by a Joan Miró that sold within estimate for £3,778,500. A Paul Gauguin, La Rêve, also sold quickly for a £1,930,500.
Kees van Dongen, Anita en almée (1908), via Christie’s Auction House
As the sale wound into the final lots, the works continued to sell at low estimate or just above. A Marc Chagall brought a £1,482,500 final price, followed by a Chaim Soutine work that failed to find a buyer, one of the few works offered that did not sell. An Henri Laurens sculpture was one of the few surprises of the evening, doubling its estimate to sell for a final price of £1,022,500. Another late highlight came from Franz Marc, whose fluid piece brought a final of £2,098,500, within estimate, before the sale concluded.
Sales will continue tomorrow at Sotheby’s, with its highly touted auction of Impressionist works.
Wassily Kandinsky, Studie zu Improvisation 3 (1909), via Christie’s
— D. Creahan
Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale [Christie's]